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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

EDITORIAL 15.06.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month  june 15, edition 000859, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.


























  3. HEY RAM!









































In normal circumstances, Mr Manmohan Singh despatching one of the special cars that form the Prime Minister's fleet of bulletproof and blastproof vehicles to ferry Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa from Tamil Nadu House to 7, Race Course Road on Tuesday could have been described as no more than a kindly gesture, although similar courtesy has not been extended to others who have an appointment with him. But these are not normal circumstances for either the Prime Minister or the Congress. As the party fights to keep the UPA afloat and Mr Singh struggles to remain relevant to both the Congress and the nation, it is only natural that they should look beyond the DMK to ensure a certain degree of southern comfort if things were to spin out of control. True, the DMK paterfamilias has not indicated any intention of breaking with the Congress; he has stopped short of calling off the alliance while giving vent to his mounting anger and rising frustration in the wake of the 2G Spectrum scam leaving his party looking thoroughly tarred. But being the pragmatist that he is, Mr M Karunanidhi realises that he has few options after the DMK's rout in the recent Assembly election. With Ms Jayalalithaa making life difficult for him and the DMK's first family — she can't be faulted for doing so — his best bet is to continue with the alliance, even if that amounts to no protection for those accused of benefiting from the Great 2G Spectrum robbery. For the Congress, however, the DMK has become a political liability: It cannot even dream of contesting the 2014 general election in the company of those who have come to symbolise corruption in the country. Ideally the Congress would like to dump the DMK and align with the AIADMK, but that's easier said than done. Ms Jayalalithaa is no novice in politics, nor is she desperate to join the UPA for the simple reason that the Congress needs her more than she needs the Congress. Hence, despite the red carpet being rolled out for her meeting with Mr Singh, she has chosen not to reciprocate in equal measure: She has merely let it be known that those seeking an alliance with the AIADMK must come knocking on her door, preferably in sackcloth and ashes.

That, too, may not be enough for the Congress to strike a deal with the AIADMK. Ms Jayalalithaa's wishlist is long, and difficult to accept at the moment. For instance, she has reminded the Congress about Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram's dispute election and how an adverse ruling could leave him without a seat in Parliament. The unstated suggestion is that his continued presence in the Union Government is not something that meets with her endorsement. Similarly, she wants the Congress to take the first step in breaking the alliance with the DMK before she takes a call on whether to align with the party. That's a huge risk: In politics a week is a long time; to presume that the DMK will be down and out three years from now would be stupid. But that does not prevent the Congress from wanting an ally who is not singed by charges of corruption. The temptation to be seen dumping a tainted ally in order to be seen on the right side of the divide over corruption is no doubt great. But that temptation is dampened by the daunting terms of engagement set by Ms Jayalalithaa.







It has only been little more than a month since rival Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation accord but with Hamas's rejection of the Fatah candidate to head their Unity Government, it seems like their new bonds of friendship may snap sooner than expected. Under the terms of the contentious May 4 accord, which was meant to resolve differences — political, ideological and territorial — between Palestine's mainstream political party which rules over West Bank and the Islamist organisation which controls Gaza, Fatah and Hamas were expected to come together and establish an interim Unity Government. The folly of an agreement that allows political legitimacy to an internationally recognised terrorist group has already led to cracks in the pact that are now beginning to show; the way things are headed between the two parties, they will only grow deeper and wider. The formation of an interim Government comprising unaffiliated technocrats is the first issue on the agenda and the appointment of a Prime Minister, supported by both Fatah and Hamas, the first step towards reconciliation. But how does one reconcile the legitimate interests of a mainstream political party with the vested interests of a terrorist group?

It is exactly this conflict that lies at the heart of the ongoing standoff regarding the appointment of the current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as the new leader of the proposed Unity Government. Mr Fayyad is a US-trained economist who is respected for successfully revamping PA's financial system and for establishing Government institutions that would eventually help transform the conflict-ridden territory into a strong state. Predictably, Hamas officials have flatly refused to accept Mr Fayyad's nomination because he shut down the terrorist group's institutions in the West Bank. More importantly, the group views him as an 'American agent' who has worked for better security cooperation with Israel and is likely to work towards peace in the region. Hamas, as we know, is opposed to the very existence of a Jewish state and it is in its Constitution to not accept any peace deal with Israel. Hence the absolute rejection of Mr Fayyad's candidature. But this disagreement between Fatah and Hamas is really not about whether or not Mr Fayyad would make a good leader or if he has US interests at heart or not: This conflict stems from basic differences between the ideologies of the two parties, and it will come back repeatedly to haunt the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority. Last month, President Mahmoud Abbas had ignored the path to peace. Instead, he chose to partner with a terrorist organisation. Now, he is finding his decision unravelling — given the choice, it was bound to be so.









In the absence of any cohesive counter-insurgency strategy to fight Red terror in central India, CRPF jawans will continue to be massacred by Maoists.

Even as the country remains riveted by the fasting Baba and the feasting Government, a tragedy happens almost every day at the hands of the Maoists in central India. The seriousness of the situation was enough for the Union Minister for Home Affairs to convene a special meeting with the political and police leadership of the affected States on Tuesday, June 14. In the last month more security forces personnel have been killed than days have gone by in the calendar. The tragedy of ambushes in 2010 is being revisited in 2011, and some of the tales suggest that lessons have not been learnt at all. The mounting loss in human lives has been reduced to mere statistics — to be displayed on the walls of police stations and incorporated in presentation software in power-pointed Delhi.

The Chhattisgarh Armed Force lost many recently when their bombproof vehicle was blown by what local police officials say was a tonne of explosives. Some were then slaughtered in an early morning visit to jungle toilets. A waste of lives if ever there could be. This was also the case last year with the Central Reserve Police Force that has lost over a hundred of its men to Maoist ambushes in 2010. In one particular ambush last year the CRPF lost a large number of men because they didn't have a tourniquet in their equipment — as a result, they bled to their deaths. Fancy weapons are bought, and will be purchased in future. As will be other support equipment such as radio sets and protection kits. But they mean nothing if you can't stop bleeding with a Rs 10 item. But for that to happen it requires revisiting the language and leadership of the campaign against the Maoists.

The campaign against the Maoists is a counter-insurgency operation, and denying that reality is to deceive the country. What the Maoists have managed to create is an insurgent-dictated environment in all of the districts that are under their sway. And this insurgency is not going away in a hurry, especially not given the response, the un-intelligent response, of the authorities. And this Maoist insurgency is going to continue to extort greater number of casualties from the CRPF, specifically, and other State police forces in lesser numbers. It sounds like a terrible thing to say, and without any knowledge of the stars et al, but it is a certainty of this insurgency that the CRPF will continue to pay the heaviest price. Why it shall be so is plain to the eye.

The Dantewada ambush of April 6, 2010 was the worst in the history of independent India. Wars against the neighbours did not extract such a toll in one single operation, an ambush. But the national reaction to that ambush was just as telling in many ways. Shock lasted only as long as the ubiquitous offer of resignation. That wasn't taken, and neither was anyone's head for that matter. And it is this ability to live and accept unacceptable casualties that lies at the root of the rot that has set into the functioning of the CRPF. This is the same attitude that will bring further casualties. It is important to analyze the structure and culture of the organizations at play, so as to better understand the reality of casualties in the campaign against the Maoists. Since the CRPF is certain to remain the primary force conducting anti-Maoist operations in the foreseeable future, an understanding of its functioning is vital. This understanding will vividly explain why it is easier to buy fancy assault weapons without a care for what it does to logistics, but not inexpensive tourniquets. One takes lives, while the others saves one's life. Which one the leadership of the CRPF wants to save is fairly obvious from stories as they are told.

All that it requires is some simple analysis. One of the CRPF casualties was a 55-year-old jawan. How many of them were of that age is not known, but this was the suffix to his name on a television channel. It is certain that every Maoist in that ambush was just about old enough to be his child. How a 55-year-old man is expected to operate in an insurgency environment is perplexing and scandalous. But it is not surprising, and that is the reason the CRPF will continue to pay the heaviest price in the operations against the Maoists.

The root of the problem lies in the fact that the CRPF is led by officers who don't belong to the organization. They come on deputation and return to their parent cadre or a better posting if they can wrangle it. The mass of the CRPF is from the same villages of India that send their other sons to the Army. The differences become stark moments after recruitment. Nothing is more striking than the differences of leadership between the two organizations. To ably command an armed force, the officer must have served as a company commander. For that is the key level of combat where it is won or lost. And it is the most vital level in understanding the ethos of an organization, and bonding with the subordinates. Not so with the CRPF, where the leadership is imported and is of a temporary disposition. The bonding required for an armed force, however, between the leadership and the led, cannot be imported or transferred from another organization. It has to be a product of its own ethos. And that is something that the CRPF has not been able to generate, and neither will it be able to do so in the foreseeable future. Even as para-military force continues to pay the heaviest price.

An Army has great difficulty in adjusting to insurgency conditions because no conventional force is raised to handle operations against unidentified enemies. But the Army does adjust, simply because it has the ethos and the leadership to handle such challenges. Since the leadership is from within. But that is not the case with the CRPF or any of the other Central police organisations. They lack the leadership, the ethos and the structure. So the casualties happen, and will continue to mount. It is indeed a national shame that the country cannot have an unemotional analysis of all that ails the operations against the Maoists. For unless there is a dispassionate debate, and an acknowledgement of errors, the country will continue to send 55-year-old men to fight 20 something Maoists in their own jungle terrain. It is an unequal contest, only because the country doesn't think it fit to call a slaughterhouse for what it is.







Exaggerating minor acts of vandalism and portraying them as issues related to free speech despite such acts of vandalism not being state-sanctioned makes a mockery of the concept of the right to free speech. Nor should Hindus be criticised for contesting misleading claims by liberal journalists by posting their comments on the Internet. For that would be an assault on free speech

Ashok Malik's article ("Vanvaas from Ram's India", June 11) betrays a lack of understanding of the principles underlying the issues of equality and the freedom of expression. When the state abridges the rights of the individual's freedom to freely express one's views, it is a serious assault on one's liberty. In the cases of vandalism against MF Husain's paintings, they were just that — minor acts of vandalism against which proper safeguards must be taken.

Exaggerating every minor act of vandalism and portraying them as issues related to free speech despite such acts of vandalism not being state-sanctioned makes a mockery of the concept of the right to free speech. What is really alarming is that the author brushes away the more serious assaults on our freedoms using the full force of the state's power.

The Government has never pretended to defend the individual's right to the freedom of expression. Instead, it has always used the excuse of maintaining public order to infringe on the basic rights of individuals. Some of the most egregious examples of the violation of the freedom of Indians include the censorship during the Emergency, the ban on Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, the ban by eight States on the movie The Da Vinci Code, the ban on the reproduction of the works of a Danish cartoonist, the arrest of individuals who set up websites and mailing lists expressing their views against the Communists and Ms Sonia Gandhi, and most recently, the vicious attack on Baba Ramdev and his supporters who dared to oppose corruption in the Government. In each of these cases, it was either a case of targeting Hindus or pandering to Muslims and Christians.

The protests by Hindus against MF Husain's works were clearly a demand for the equal application of the law. For more than a decade after MF Husain painted his first provocative works, Hindus demonstrated their tolerance for his right to paint whatever he wanted. They began their protests only after the Government pandered to Muslims in quick succession on the twin issues of the Shah Bano case and the ban on Salman Rushdie's book.

The author uses a clever bait-and-switch ploy to compare Hindus to Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran who had issued a fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie. Hindus who protested against MF Husain's works were not asking for the implementation of fatwas similar to those issued by the Ayatollah. They were asking for the law to be applied to Hindus in the same manner that Rajiv Gandhi had applied it to Muslims. Their objection was to the Government's application of the law in a partisan manner to favour Muslims. The author has conveniently replaced Rajiv Gandhi with Ayatollah Khomeini so that he can demonise Hindus.

The author bemoans the fact that there were lawsuits filed against MF Husain and calls this an abuse of the system. Filing lawsuits is a peaceful way of dealing with the issue. If he has a problem with the law, he should oppose the law, and he will find that Hindus support him in the quest for equality and freedom. Indeed, Hindus have consistently demanded that the Government implement a Uniform Civil Code. To keep the current law and selectively use it on Hindus while bemoaning it when used against a Muslim is unacceptable.

In a country like India with a population of around 1.2 billion people, there are bound to be all sorts of people. While some like the author may have attended charm school and are articulate, others have not been so fortunate to be literate and are rough around the edges. Their method of articulation is in the form of protests and may not be palatable to the author, but it would be sheer arrogance to reject their views on the grounds that they do not speak English.

Sometimes their methods may have crossed acceptable boundaries, but it is clear that they understand the principle of equality better than smooth-talking journalists who seem smitten by inferiority complex and want to be accepted by those in the West who call themselves liberals. It is very common for Westerners who call themselves liberals to support the equal application of the law in their countries while opposing the Uniform Civil Code in India. Many Indian journalists who are inferiority-ridden seek to boost their self-esteem by gaining acceptance among this category of Westerners and simply adopt their views without a proper analysis of the issues at hand.

The most disconcerting part in Ashok Malik's article is his objection to Hindus making their views known on the Internet. In India, as well as elsewhere, the flawed arguments of journalists and the many fictitious claims perpetrated by them have been confronted by facts posted on the Internet by ordinary people. In response, many insecure journalists have clamoured for imposing controls on the Internet and have lost no opportunity to criticise the Internet. It is this advocacy of imposing controls that should concern the advocates of free speech.

The author must realise that expressing one's views on the Internet is a right that must not be infringed upon even if such views are expressed by Hindus. Abridging such rights would make India a totalitarian state and cannot be accepted. Individuals must always have a right to their freedoms, while it must be the Government's duty to treat everyone in an even-handed manner. That is the crux of the issue that the author fails to grasp.

The author also makes a gross exaggeration when he claims that MF Husain quit India due to harassment by Hindus. Even after the lawsuits against MF Husain were filed, he continued to live in India for several years, including the years when his political opponents were in power. He quit India only after eyebrows were raised in certain quarters when it became known that his customers were always wealthy business houses based in India, but they conducted their financial transactions with MF Husain in a foreign country and channelled the money back to India. Sometimes, MF Husain has donated the proceeds of his sales to charities operated by members of business families. Such patterns in financial transactions are bound to raise suspicions as these patterns are usually associated with money-laundering schemes.

It is not inconceivable that the authorities in India were hot on his heels making him leave the country for good. Even if he left the country due to the lawsuits filed against him, it is wrong to blame Hindus since Hindus have always opposed draconian laws.

It is thus clear that it is Hindus who have been consistently correct on the twin issues of equality and freedom while their opponents have consistently presented wrong arguments to buttress their flawed positions.

-- The author can be reached at






While a recent Pew poll shows that Pakistanis support Islamism by a whopping 47 to 15 per cent margin, the contemporary Western mass media is busy spreading the myth that Pakistanis are opposed to the Taliban and its hate agenda

People ask me why I write so much and I explain that I don't want to do so but keep coming across such important events, missed stories, and outrageous nonsense that I feel compelled to say something. So it is in this case.

Here's the problem: A remarkable amount of what's written on West Asia in the mass media — and certainly the efforts to analyse it as opposed to reporting events — is nonsensical. It makes the region harder to understand. It misleads the reader.

An example is Anatol Lieven, "Five Myths about Pakistan," The Washington Post, June 5, 2011. Lieven is a professor at Kings College, London and a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has just written a book on Pakistan.

One of the techniques often employed in the creation of the fantasy West Asia is to misstate totally the issues at stake. Note the use of that technique in Lieven's article.

Alleged myth one: "Pakistan is a US ally in the war on terrorism."

Pakistan, he writes, just follows its own interests. Sometimes it's helpful and sometimes it isn't. Fair enough, that's what allies generally do. But the policy question is: Whether Pakistan is helpful often enough to merit being treated like an ally and given huge amounts of aid. The answer is 'no'. Neither the question nor the answer is addressed.

Incidentally, it's pretty outrageous that Lieven suggests that Pakistan supports the Taliban because India is inciting other groups in Afghanistan to seize power. Yet since Pakistan's policy has been the same for 30 years — it has long supported radical Islamist forces in Afghanistan — how can India be to blame for relatively recent policies? To bash India for Pakistan's behaviour in Afghanistan is absurd.

If a country supports to a major degree the two groups that attacked America on September 11 — the Taliban and Al Qaeda — plus is a major sponsor of terrorism against India, the answer to question one isn't 'sometimes' but 'definitely not'!

Alleged myth two: "Pakistan is an ally of the Taliban."

Again, Lieven turns this into a 'straw man' argument. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't, he says. But the real answer is 'yes', if one is talking about the Afghan Taliban, which is what the US is mainly concerned about. It is only an enemy of the (Pakistani) Taliban that tries to take over Pakistan. So, again, Pakistan is an ally of the (Afghan) Taliban, the group — along with Al Qaeda — that the US gives it billions of dollars to fight against.

Alleged myth three: "Islamist revolution is coming to Pakistan."

Why is this a myth? Because, says Lieven, less than one-fifth of Pakistanis view the Taliban favourably in a poll. As if, that's the only Islamist group! He cites one Pew poll number but other polls and other questions show a remarkably high level of support for Islamism among Pakistanis. Putting such a spin on one item and leaving out others verges, to put it politely, on deliberate dishonesty.

Indeed, a recent Pew poll shows that Pakistanis support Islamism by a whopping 47 to 15 per cent margin. Thus, this argument that Pakistanis don't want Islamism is a total myth. That's why Lieven misrepresents the issue to 'prove' that Pakistanis don't want the Taliban's specific brand of Islamism.

I'm not saying that Pakistan will have a radical Islamist revolution. But it is certainly possible. If Turkey and Egypt can become Islamist, surely Pakistan could do so.

Alleged myth four: "Massive US aid lets Washington dictate Pakistani policy."

This one really made me angry. Nobody seriously argues such a thing. The real issue is whether the large amount of aid and support the US gives Pakistan provides some American leverage to get Pakistan to do things that the US wants and needs to be done. If this aid does no good at all then it shouldn't be given in the first place.

The correct formulation is: Does giving Pakistan massive aid provide Washington with any ability at all to have the slightest effect on Pakistani policy. If billions of dollars cannot even get them to help find Osama bin Laden what good are they?

Alleged Myth five: "Pakistan, not Afghanistan, is the front in the war on terrorism."

The front? I don't know anyone who says this either. That's just a phony issue. The real question is: Does Pakistan provide really positive aid in fighting terrorism or not? But if one frames the question in that way the answer is not likely to be in the affirmative, which is presumably why this question isn't asked.

So what's the bottom line? The author writes what he's been setting up for that entire misleading essay: "None of this means that the US should pursue more aggressive policies against Pakistan to win the war on terrorism... Any US action that endangered the stability of the Pakistani Government would be insane."

In other words, US policy is just fine and there's no need to change anything. Who cares if they support the Taliban, hide Al Qaeda leaders, and launch terrorist attacks on India? Just keep sending them money and keep giving them support.

Precisely the same argument has and will be used to rationalise such things as:

US aid and support to the Palestinian Authority (even if it refuses to negotiate or make peace and brings Hamas into the Government);

Turkey (despite its regime's growing support for Iran,

Syria (the regime supposedly wants to reform itself and you can't expect it to abandon the alliance with Iran so who cares if they shoot down thousands of unarmed citizens and help terrorist groups along with opposing US policies and interests);

Lebanon (even if Hizbullah will be in the Government and the country is dominated by Syria and Iran); and no doubt soon Egypt (with a radical nationalist-Islamist regime that will be against the US.

You can easily adjust the five 'myths' to suit each circumstance. Indeed, if Iran's leaders didn't keep 'stubbornly' refusing to make some phony deal on their nuclear programme the Obama Administration and many 'experts' would no doubt be advocating the same ideas about Iran, too.

Why was that article written? Like so many, to turn something obvious through 'sophistication' into a brain-dead conclusion. Let's state it briefly to make the point stand out: High-ranking elements in Pakistan have just got caught hiding Osama bin Laden, the world's number-one wanted terrorist who killed 3,000 Americans on September 11 and have repeatedly been caught helping Osama bin Laden's enablers, the Afghan Taliban, and terrorists murdering people in India. No apology, no investigation, no change of policy by Pakistan.

The expert recommendation? US policy towards Pakistan shouldn't change at all.

This is the foolishness dressed up with deception and double-talk that so often substitutes for serious debate in America's mass media today.

I would call the kind of article I'm analysing here not only 'misinformation' but 'anti-information'. In other words, the person reading it would be worse informed afterward than they were beforehand.

And the same goes for much-most? Almost all? — of the material of this nature in the mass media. Not only do we face this propaganda barrage but contrary opinions are generally barred from mass media publication or broadcast altogether.

What I've done with this article and others can be done with many of the items on West Asia that appear daily in prestigious publications. It's not just about getting details wrong, it's about total misdirection. A few minutes of serious analysis can totally demolish what they are saying while exposing their hidden (wrong) assumptions.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.






Scientists are quickly combing the DNA of the killer bacteria behind the world's worst E coli outbreak to find clues about how to treat patients and prevent future epidemics.

So far, one strain from a German patient has been sequenced by Chinese and German scientists. While the genetic information is preliminary, experts say there are a few hints about where the bacteria came from and why it might be so lethal.

The E coli causing Europe's massive outbreak is likely the product of another strain first detected a decade ago in Germany, but with some dangerous mutations, experts say. German investigators have declared the outbreak was caused by contaminated sprouts from an organic farm in northern Germany. So far, the bug has killed at least 35 people and sickened more than 3,000, including several hundred who have developed life-threatening kidney failure.

Flemming Scheutz, head of the World Health Organisation's Collaborating Centre laboratory in Denmark, said the strain is particularly good at picking up new genes. Because E coli is constantly evolving, it is riddled with genes swapped from other strains found in animals and humans, giving it countless opportunities to acquire something lethal.

"It's just very unfortunate that in this case, it recombined and took on these (dangerous) genes and that it happened to do it in the food chain," he said.

Scheutz said some previously seen related strains were also quite toxic but that scientists needed more samples to have a better understanding of how the new strain behaves. "It's like looking at a family photo with three people and the 50 others are missing," he said.

Others say the DNA sequences they've seen so far appear worrying enough.

Stephen Smith, a microbiologist at Trinity College in Dublin, said the new E coli appears to stick to human intestines in a different way and that the bacteria might reproduce faster than other E coli strains. More bacteria in the intestines could explain why the disease is so deadly, he said. Smith was not involved in the sequencing work.

"It could be the bacteria's genes are causing it to produce more toxin, which may affect patients differently," he said. The toxin usually targets the kidney, triggering a severe E coli complication. But in the European outbreak, many of those patients have also suffered from neurological problems including paralysis.

Frederick Blattner of the University of Wisconsin, who has analysed the new sequence information, said the toxin released by the German E coli seemed extremely potent.

"With other strains, it can take a million of them in your stomach to make you sick," he said. "But with this bacteria, it might be possible to be infected with much lower numbers."

Researchers have also found the E coli bacteria has at least eight genes that make it resistant to many antibiotics.

"That could give suggestions to doctors about what treatments to select for patients," said Bicheng Yang, a spokeswoman for BGI, the Chinese laboratory that sequenced the bacteria. In Germany, many patients with the most severe form of the disease, which involves kidney failure, have been treated with dialysis and blood transfusions.

"The next step is to do further tests at the molecular level to see what drugs might work," she said. Yang added that knowing more about the bacteria's origins could help stop future outbreaks and avoid things that could speed up the mutation process.

Gad Frankel, a microbiologist at Imperial College in London, said DNA information might help scientists figure out how the bacteria sticks to certain vegetables — and then stop it before it happens. "It's possible we could develop inhibitors to prevent the interaction between E coli and vegetables," he said, explaining a biodegradeable spray could theoretically be made to do the job.

Experts agreed that narrowing down where the new E coli came from was key to averting future epidemics. "The evolution of E coli just happens when bugs get together," Smith said. "We can't stop evolution, but if we can learn today how and where it happens, we might be able to save lives in the future."

-- AP







Black money has become a national talking point. It isn't surprising the finance minister used the occasion of a tax conference jointly organised by his ministry and OECD to reiterate the government's commitment to tackling the menace. None will fault him for highlighting some difficulties in the way of repatriating black money stashed abroad. Some countries won't end banking secrecy - a G20 demand - with retrospective effect, which stymies exchange of past information. And while all agree banking confidentiality mustn't shield tax fraud or money laundering and round-tripping, many foreign banks justifiably want demands for transparency to be case-based, with aggrieved parties furnishing details on charges against specific clients.

Hurdles however shouldn't deter us from actively pursuing global cooperation via disclosure treaties to expose tax havens where illicit funds flow. Our tax authorities have done well to think of an information hub to expedite cases and facilitate data exchange. Also,
Switzerland is purportedly willing to share with countries concerned part of the tax on interest foreign account holders earn. This needs exploring. It's however important to distinguish between past capital flight forced by exorbitant tax rates and funds outflow linked to corruption and crime. A one-time amnesty encouraging the former category to pay taxes at prevailing rates on their money is worth considering.

However, it's choking black money generation at home that's more important. The remedial reforms will have a greater impact on economic health. Here, it's imperative the UPA not think or act rashly to ward off civil society's attack. It must reject absurd ideas like making tax evasion a criminal offence. Surely fast-growing
India needn't travel back to times when harsh, business-unfriendly tax laws were political tools of intimidation. The focus should be on incentivising compliance. If UPA and the opposition mean business about controlling tax evasion, they'd speed up on GST and the direct tax code. The more simplified our tax rules, the more streamlined the tax structure and the lower taxes on incomes, the less tax-dodging there'll be.

As essential is cleaning up real estate, a huge black money generator thanks to artificially created land scarcity, mazelike and arcane regulations, heavy taxes on land transactions and messy land records. We need to free up land markets, not least by putting some state-owned land on sale and revamped acquisition rules. Lowering stamp duty will encourage proper disclosure of the value of property deals. If fighting black money requires busting politically coddled land mafias, it also mandates exposing sources of political funding and curbing authorities' discretionary powers. Equally, watchdogs and justice-dispensers must signal institutional intolerance for wrongdoing. Shouting matches won't eradicate corruption and crime. Let's lower the decibel level, and get down to the job at hand.







With the onset of summer, Jammu & Kashmir has reason to be cautiously optimistic. While a repeat of last year's turmoil in the Kashmir valley needs to be avoided, the season holds out significant opportunities for change. On the security front, a lighter footprint for the army is advisable. It must deal with civilians with courtesy, and handle militants with the least possible collateral damage. When it comes to law and order issues, the emphasis needs to shift to smart policing with the local police taking the lead. Suitable training and equipment are needed to enable this. Past seasons of discontent have seen poor political communication on the part of the Omar Abdullah administration. This needs to be improved upon. However, key to dealing with public grievances is effective local governance. The 16-phase panchayat elections in the state, taking place after a decade, have seen sizeable and enthusiastic public participation. This needs to be leveraged by pushing development at the grassroots level.

In this regard, the Centre has done well to impress upon the J&K government the need to devolve greater powers to the newly-elected panchayats. Under the current system, local MLAs enjoy overweening influence over financial allocations. It is imperative that appropriate amendments are made to the state's Panchayat Act to transfer these powers to the panchayats. More so because funds allocated by the 13th Finance Commission and those under flagship projects such as NREGS are to be routed through these local bodies. Jammu & Kashmir has long been grappling with the problem of corruption leading to poor grassroots infrastructure. It is only through empowering panchayats and giving them greater say over finances that the trend can be reversed.









Those who question the role of civil society in India's battle against corruption should recall the words of US Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, one of the great reformers of the Franklin D Roosevelt era, whose judicial tenure extended through the presidencies of Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman and John F Kennedy. "In a democracy," Justice Frankfurter thundered, "the highest office is the office of the citizen."

The government is elected to govern. If it does not, it will be voted out after five years. In the interim, it is the job of citizens, at whose behest the government discharges its constitutional obligations, to protest misgovernance. Civil society globally has catalysed great change. In the
United States, Martin Luther King fought for and won civil rights for African-Americans. That was civil society at its best. In Egypt, civil society ended the 32-year, one-party dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak. Civil society is leading change in Tunisia.

Anna Hazare and Baba Ramdev would not have drawn nationwide support had the UPA government done the job it was elected to do. Corruption does not only corrode the foundations of our democracy. It is the fount of several other ills. For example, systemic corruption ensures that nearly 75% of taxpayers' funds meant for anti-poverty programmes like MNREGA do not reach the poor. A government deeply steeped in corrupt practices has little incentive to legislate a strong instutionalised anti-corruption body like the Lokpal.

Consider two key questions which have divided politicians, jurists and citizens alike and stalled progress on the Jan Lokpal Bill: first, should the prime minister come within the purview of the Lokpal? Yes: the prime minister as head of the government must welcome institutional scrutiny - as, for instance, US presidents routinely do - not evade it.

Secondly, should the higher judiciary (high court and Supreme Court judges) fall within the purview of the Lokpal? No, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, currently under legislative review, should instead be strengthened to include a judicial commission which would hear public complaints against senior judges. The judicial commission could have five members: the chairperson of the Lokpal body, the central vigilance commissioner, the leader of the opposition, a senior government minister and a former chief justice of
India. The judicial commission would thus ensure the Lokpal participates collectively - not unilaterally - in determining charges of corruption against senior judges. The Jan Lokpal draft Bill already has a provision for judicial review by the Supreme Court of all decisions by the multi-member Lokpal body. This system of counterchecks and balances between the Lokpal and the higher judiciary will best serve the citizen.

But will we get a Lokpal Bill at all in the next session of Parliament as promised by the UPA government? The government is likely to present a watered down Bill to Parliament. MPs across party lines will reject such a diluted Bill. Does this signify business (and corruption) as usual for the Congress-led UPA government? Fortunately for citizens, no. A Rubicon has been crossed. There are moments in a government's life when the tide turns. That moment has arrived for this government.

Rewind to recent history when similar points of inflection were reached: June 26, 1975 when the Emergency was declared and thousands jailed without trial leading, on March 24, 1977, to the end of 30 years of uninterrupted Congress governments; April 16, 1987 when Swedish Radio first unveiled the Bofors scam - within 31 months Rajiv Gandhi's 404-MP majority in the Lok Sabha had been reduced to less than 200, the steepest decline in Indian electoral history. And, finally, December 6, 1992 when a somnolent Narasimha Rao failed to stop the demolition of the Babri masjid, setting off a chain of events that allowed the BJP-led NDA to form a government at the Centre for the first time just over five years later.

The UPA government will retain office for the present because it possesses the instruments of office: control over the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and the Enforcement Directorate among others - and therefore over the way Mayawati,
Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad vote in Parliament. The only outcome the UPA government truly fears is being voted out of office. That would dry up its financial pipeline. Most politicians regard being in government not as an obligation to serve the citizen but to serve themselves. Being in opposition is not a profitable option for those used to being in government for 52 out of the past 64 years.

With a mere 28.55% national vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, there are two constituencies the Congress cannot afford to lose: Muslims and the Hindi heartland. Muslims give the Congress around 10% of its 28% vote share, which it protects fiercely through calibrated appeasement. The other 18% falls squarely in Baba Ramdev's constituency: rural farmers and OBCs, not all of them natural BJP supporters. Baba Ramdev is a Yadav himself. The caste implications of his movement on the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections and the next Lok Sabha poll could prove decisive. It could cost the Congress what it most fears losing: the power and protection of office.

The writer is an author and chairman of a media group.








One of India's smallest states is also among its biggest conundrums. With a history as chequered and intriguing as its topography, Nagaland is a bewildering mosaic of social and geopolitical complexities. In his book Nagaland: A Journey to India's Forgotten Frontier, British journalist Jonathan Glancey tries to take a closer look at Nagaland. He shares his findings with Harsh Kabra :

Why a book on Nagaland?

Because Nagaland is such a forgotten corner of the world. It isn't at all well known even in India, and it is much misunderstood. I had known about the Naga hills from childhood. For me, at that stage of life, and as someone with a great love for India, this was a Secret Garden or Lost Kingdom, a land from a Kipling story. As I grew up, I remained curious. When I finally went to Nagaland in the early 1980s, I had the opportunity - not as a journalist - to tell the story of a people and a place that deserve recognition. I have been astonished by how little people in India know about Nagaland and its extraordinary history. Here, aside from a fascinating people with a rich culture, is a land that has been a junction box for political ambitions that have shaped the world. This is where the Japanese nearly invaded India in 1944. This is where China might have invaded in 1962. For any number of reasons, Nagaland matters.

Didn't you come across varying, even contradictory, narratives of history?

I would say that the vast majority of Naga people want independence from India. Being forced into Indian citizenship when the state of Nagaland was created in 1963 only strengthened the resolve of most Nagas. From then on, to fight for Nagalim - the dream of a greater Nagaland embracing all Naga tribes across state and international borders - meant being a subversive or traitor. This has not gone down well with Naga people. Of course, there are those who do well working with the federal government and in modern business, and these people - a small minority - do have a less intransigent view of where Nagaland stands in relation to India.

What is at the root of the Naga scepticism towards India?

Nagas were promised their freedom by Mahatma Gandhi. This offer was revoked, and brutally so as events proved, by Jawaharlal Nehru and his successors. So there is a lack of trust. Nagas come from a very different background and culture. They still want their own country, much, perhaps, as the Irish did when ruled by Britain.

Isn't Nagaland more at peace now with its current identity?

Nagas are very happy with the idea of being Nagas; their attachment to their beautiful hills is profound. India cannot truly understand Nagaland because most Nagas do not want the Indian state of Nagaland. If more Indians were able or willing to travel through Nagaland, I think they would understand. After all, Indians worked hard for their independence. They, of all people, should understand the dream of an independent Nagaland.

Can modern India's economic might counterpoise the Naga desire for independence?

The desire for independence is deep-rooted. The Look East policy, driving economic development into Nagaland and the northeast generally, has helped many people in a matter-of-fact way. Yet, whenever I speak with Naga people, no matter how seemingly integrated into modern Indian life and even the global economy, I hear a longing for an independent Nagalim. And, as Nagas, whether villagers or professors in North America, told me, Nagaland is not for sale.






What would you do if people forced their way into the house you and your family had been living in for generations and evicted you, giving you a token amount of money? What would you do if you were to be put in this life-threatening situation? Would you meekly accept it? Or would you feel that you had no option but to try and fight back by whatever means at your disposal, and no matter what the odds against you?

As you sit in your home or office reading this, such a scenario seems absurd. After all, we live in a democracy where the rule of law prevails and the rights of property are respected. Such things could never happen to us. And yet this is exactly what is happening to many hundreds and thousands of our fellow citizens almost every day. They are the farmers of small holdings who are being forced out of their homes and their only means of self-employment when their land is acquired by governmental diktat to build a new township or put up a power plant or construct a highway.

'Land acquisition' has become the frontline in the escalating confrontation between rural Bharat and industrialised India. From Nandigram and Singur in West Bengal - where the backlash against a botched land-grab attempt helped oust the ruling Marxists after more than three decades in power - to Greater Noida in UP where farmers agitating against the takeover of their land by property developers made national headlines, the Bharat-India divide is being made starkly and often tragically clear.

Can a 'modern' India - the India of factories and apartment buildings and commercial complexes and air-conditioned malls - 'progress' at the expense of an ageless Bharat, rooted in the soil? It can't. Quite apart from the economic reality of rural demand being essential to the country's overall economic growth, the presumed adversarial relationship between India and Bharat raises a number of questions of social and environmental equity. When the government intervenes on behalf of India to acquire land from Bharat for the sake of 'public benefit' who is this public that is benefiting, and at what cost and to whom?

Such questions are going to acquire increasing urgency as India's seemingly insatiable hunger for land grows sharper, displacing tribal and farming communities and making environmentally ruinous encroachments into forests and other fragile ecosystems. A national manufacturing policy which has been under discussion by the government and the industrial establishment for the past two years envisages the creation of a slew of integrated industrial townships, each of 12,500 acres, spread over the country. The idea is to raise the contribution made by manufacturing to the national economy from the current 15% of GDP to 25%, and to create an additional 100 million jobs by 2025. Land acquisition for these townships - or national investment and manufacturing zones (NIMZ) as they are officially being labelled - will be undertaken by the states where these industrial hubs are to be set up.

Where is all this land to come from? Obviously from farms and villages, what is sometimes collectively referred to as Bharat. Will this become another confrontation between 'modern' India and 'traditional' Bharat? The land acquisition law proposed by the Mayawati government in UP - and which could well provide an example for the Centre and for other states - could help to avoid such conflicts.

The UP law makes it mandatory for buyers to deal directly with the owners of the land. Only after 70% of the local community has agreed to the sale, can the state government step in and help conclude the deal, which not only fixes land prices at market rates but also guarantees jobs and a royalty on the land sold which is payable for a fixed number of years.

The most important aspect, however, is not the letter but the spirit of the law: it recognises a reality that is often forgotten, that India and Bharat are not two opposing entities but one. One cannot 'progress' at the expense of the other, because there is no 'other' to exploit but itself.








The government is rethinking its banking outreach programme. A committee headed by a Reserve Bank of India deputy governor has recommended that administered interest rates in post office savings schemes be linked to treasury yields. This will accomplish three objectives. First, it removes a floor on interest rates, thus aiding the central bank's mission to make monetary transmission more responsive. Second, it eases the burden on a government committed to subsidising the small saver for shifting her savings into financial instruments from the traditional, yet unproductive, assets like land and gold. Third, state governments, which have a lien on these savings, end up paying for more for their borrowings because the interest rates are artificially propped up. As a byproduct, the proposals aim to also close a money-laundering avenue that post office savings have come to represent.

Valid arguments all. Yet, they miss the big picture: markets discriminate against the small. The poor get a lower return than the rich on their savings—if their savings are worth a bank's while to collect, that is. Which is why post offices were made to double up as banks in the first place: they happened to be in the neck of the woods that banks had never visited and were made

to accept deposits that regular banks would consider small change. Four decades after banks were nationalised they have not been able to penetrate the countryside enough to make the post office savings deposit redundant and India remains a grossly underbanked country. Although technology today allows universal banking through devices like cellphones, this is still being tested in India. The government will have to think long and hard before it tweaks the retail loans for which it offers a sovereign guarantee or the interest it offers on them. Pegging rates on treasury yields runs the risk of lowering them in a low interest environment, chipping some sheen off post office savings instruments.

Post office savings have an even more powerful argument going for them than the welfare one. India's growth is predicated on its savings rate. We save over a third of our income, but this number does not mean much unless most of the household savings enters the financial market where it gets farmed out for investment into factories, highways and ports. In a decade from 1969, when banks were first nationalised and told to go to the villages, the Hindu rate of growth crept up from 3.5% to 5%. Since then, as bank branches fanned out across the country, our growth rate has sprinted to 9% as more Indians put their savings in banks. The logic of sweetening the decision to park money in a post office still holds. Indians' historical affinity for saving in gold and land is phenomenal; the State must wean them off it.




We have heard of the Man in the Moon, but now we go further up the celestial ladder with an Italian space enthusiast spotting the Mahatma on Mars. A stellar feat really but this might make many of Gandhi's followers see Red. Now the likeness of people and things have been spotted all over the place from the humble papaya resembling Ganesh to pictures of godly beings on toast. And if you look hard enough you can probably discern your own features on everyday objects.

But we have another, equally flaky, explanation for this spotting of the Mahatma on the mysterious planet. Clearly, he is looking for the many artifacts of his that we, who so worship him, have managed to lose. The latest to go are his iconic spectacles — he is often represented by just his eyewear — from the Sewagram ashram in Wardha. Of course, many items of his correspondence have ended up in the hands of shysters who have made a killing from Mahatma mania. So, it might be appropriate to initiate our own search for our departed luminaries among other planets.

Maybe we will spot Rabindranath Tagore on distant Neptune looking for his coveted Nobel gong. Or our Mughal emperors searching for their fabulous treasures from chilly Pluto. And perhaps Elvis is on the third rock from the sun instead of Argentina. And, of course, we dare not say that Subhas Chandra Bose could be gracing a constellation when we know that he still walks among us. We just hope that our brethren, not known for their sense of humour, will not decide that this Mahatma sighting constitutes an insult to the nation and start taking out processions. Or worse still, fasting, so beloved of the Mahatma. Instead, we should encourage our enraged sants and babas to take up a new pastime, that of star-spotting. It will, we assure you, still keep them in orbit.






In 1988, when HM Ershad, a dodgy army general leading Bangladesh at that time, amended the constitution, he cleverly substituted the word "secular" in the State policy with "Islamic". The civil society, which had supported Bangladesh's secular constitution, was aghast at Islam being made the State religion. Fifteen of them filed a writ before the apex court, the core argument of which was that "a religion like Islam cannot be controlled by the State, and a sovereign nation-state cannot be dictated by the canons of Islam."

After being in the freezer for 23 years, the matter is out again. The court has now asked the Awami League government of Sheikh Hasina why it has not yet been annulled. Hasina is the daughter of Mujibur Rahman, founder of the nation and architect of the secular constitution. However, a committee of lawmakers dominated by the Awami League has given its verdict. It does not want Islam to cease to be the country's State religion. Interestingly, Ershad was not only the League's ally in the last elections in 2008 but the architect of the 'grand alliance' (mahajot), instrumental in the previous incumbent Khaleda Zia's electoral debacle. Mujibur Rahman's idea of separation between Islam and the State has been scuppered by not only his political opponents but by his own kin.

The French-style 'active neutrality' of the State towards religion that Mujib had introduced got diluted after his assassination in 1975. Ziaur Rahman, the military ruler who took over soon after Mujib's assassination, introduced the words Bismillah'ir Rahman'ir Rahim on top of the constitution's preamble. And he wanted India to be put at a distance. The State radio, for example, stopped saying 'Joy Bangla' under him and chanted 'Bangladesh Zindabad' instead; the former was considered too close to 'Jai Hind' while the idea was to make it sound like 'Pakistan Zindabad'.

It was clear that once the West Pakistani hegemony was obliterated, the Muslim identity of Bengalis was manifest again. Even then, all that it led Bangladesh to was a liberal form of Islam. But Ershad went several notches further. He sought realignment with Pakistan, a desire that also remained a strategic aim of the Bangladesh National Party under Khaleda Zia, Ziaur Rahman's widow.

However, India need not read too much meaning into Hasina's decision to let the Islamic state stay as it can well be a ploy to deflate Khaleda's relentless campaign against her for being, among other things, an 'Indian agent'. Besides, an overdose of secularism has not succeeded in the Islamic world — be it in Soviet-supported Afghanistan, in Iran under the Shah or Turkey under the pro-military secularists whose banning of headscarf became a moving metaphor of human liberty and its infringement in Nobel winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk's Snow. In Turkey, liberal Muslim AK Party's third consecutive electoral victory this week carries its own message to overzealous secularists.

However, not all Muslim-majority states are Islamic either. Indonesia is an example. Despite al-Qaeda attacks on its soil, it has limited its assertion of faith to "belief in one supreme God" and has given official status to as many as six religions, including Islam and Hinduism. However, the fact that Bangladesh has chosen a different kind of relation between the mosque and the State is a product of its own historical and cultural development.

The writ by Bangladesh's citizens as early as 1988 shows a paradox that cannot be resolved by politicians. Justice Kamaluddin Ahmed, who took a leading part in drafting the petition, questioned how a sovereign State could have Islam as its "State religion"? Religion recognises no border. If it becomes the State, it cannot be subordinate to the sovereignty of a State. It is a dilemma that the Bangladesh secularists identified with uncanny prescience. Pakistan is paying a huge price for living with this contradiction. Bangladesh under Hasina has now welcomed it.

( Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based political commentator )

The views expressed by the author are personal





Land acquisition and involuntary displacement have been the fountainhead of enormous destitution of millions of invisible people since Independence. Generations of those sacrificed for 'development' are farmers and farm workers, and many are fragile tribal people and forest gatherers. By coercive displacement and dispossession, governments pauperise its poorest people, and its food-growers, so that the 'nation' can prosper and grow.

Rage at persisting State injustice of coercive displacement frequently spills onto the streets in violent protests; and, in recent times, has even led to the rise and fall of governments. The problem is further aggravated in these times of furiously paced industrialisation and urbanisation. Increasingly the scarcest resource is not capital but land. The traditional land hunger of the impoverished peasantry is being choked by the land demands of private industry. In non-democratic societies, people are forcibly evicted and their protests crushed to make way for industry and cities. But India rightly aspires to achieve rapid growth in an open democratic society. For this, it must make all people willing and equal partners in development.

At the heart of contestation is the Land Acquisition Act passed in 1894, which governments continue to use to forcibly acquire land from those who own and cultivate it. This colonial law is greatly weighted in favour of the principle of 'eminent domain of State', that the State is the ultimate owner and custodian of all land and natural resources in the country. The statute fails profoundly to protect the rights of affected people. It offers abysmal compensation based on under-valued registered sale deeds to those who lose land, and no rights of rehabilitation and resettlement. The law has weak redress and appeal mechanisms, and opaque and non-transparent processes. It is long due that this law is repealed, and replaced by another just, humane and transparent statute.

All land is acquired by the State because it claims that the land is needed for a 'public purpose'. The 1894 law leaves the decision about what is a public purpose entirely in the hands of the executive — and in practice often to a single bureaucrat. This remnant of colonial tradition is untenable in a democratic state. Governments must explain to people affected what precisely is the public purpose, and why other non-displacing or less displacing alternatives, and especially why agricultural land or forest, needs to be acquired. People must have the legal right to challenge these claims, and the costs and benefits should be evaluated by independent experts in a Social Impact Assessment.

Compensation under the existing law is determined on the basis of sale deeds of land registered during the preceding three years. However, in most parts of the country, this tends to be greatly under-valued to save on stamp duty, and land owners get only a pittance compared to the actual market cost of the land. We estimate that under-valuation to save stamp duties can be up to half or one-third the market costs. Therefore, compensation should be computed by tripling the registered sale price of the land, and adding 100% solatium. This becomes six times the registered sale deed price.

The land owner feels further short-changed because real-estate builders often sell the land at tens or even hundreds of times the price at which they bought the land from the farmer. The land owner should therefore also get 20% of the appreciated value of the land every time the land is resold for 10 years after acquisition.

Since rural people often do not have the experience to handle large sums of cash in ways that ensure long-term income, they should be offered the option of receiving part or full compensation in the form of monthly payments for 33 years. This would be at an interest rate of 12% per annum of compensation, adjusted for inflation by adding 10% every year.

The most invisible and vulnerable people affected by acquisition are those who do not own land, but lose their livelihoods due to displacement - sharecroppers and tenants, agricultural workers, artisans such as blacksmiths who make agricultural tools. Also pauperised are those dependent on the common lands, forests or water bodies for their livelihoods, including forest gatherers and hunters, fisher-folk and boatmen. Under the present law, they are not entitled to any compensation, because governments compensate only those who own land. This must be corrected, by giving such persons monthly compensation equivalent to 10 days minimum wages per month, for 33 years.

One of the most contested issue is whether governments should be allowed to compulsorily acquire land for private industry. One view is that acquisition for projects which are privately owned and pursued for private profit should be barred, because the State should not become an agent of private profit. Let affected people be free to choose or refuse to sell their land. But others believe that industry is a public good, as it creates jobs and wealth, and governments therefore should acquire land for them.

A middle path recognises that if governments do not regulate these processes, private companies would exploit unorganised, small cultivators and pay them a pittance. The landless, tenants and artisans will have no rights to compensation, nor any rehabilitation rights. The State should therefore bar all private industry from directly purchasing lands for private farmers, but instead they should be bound to provide the high rates of compensation and rehabilitation that is guaranteed by a new humane and just law.

Today, we have the opportunity to prevent further suffering and oppression of millions of farmers and workers for the sake of industrial and urban growth. At last the country is waking, slowly and belatedly, to the urgent moral — and political — imperative of preventing further State injustice in the name of development.

( Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies )

The views expressed by the author are personal





In the history of professional sport, equality before the law is at best a tenuous concept. Star players and champion teams in most sports have come to expect anything from leeway to outright preference from umpires and referees. LeBron James, the world's most talented basketball player, is routinely allowed to take four or five steps with the ball without being called for a travelling violation. Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo persistently wins fouls for outright dives and play-acting. Profit-minded administrators, PR executives and sponsors have crafted an environment in which fans often identify with individuals rather than a team.

In cricket, the notion that the right of a star player to perform his art ought to take precedence over fair application of the rules has over a century of precedent. Most famously, the first cricketing superstar WG Grace refused to depart when dismissed, informing the umpire that the spectators had come to "watch me bat, not to watch you umpire". More recently, Shivnarine Chanderpaul spoke for many of his fellow players when he claimed that the great Australian team benefited from 80% of 50-50 umpiring decisions.

Preferential treatment is detested by everyone other than the players involved and their supporters. Advancements in video technology have emerged as a powerful force for fair and equal enforcement of rules. Since 1992, cricket benefited greatly from the application of technology. Replay for run-outs, ball-tracking for LBWs and infrared imaging for edges have added to the umpires' toolkit, culminating in the present Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS). Every study of the UDRS has found that it significantly improves decision-making accuracy. Yet the Indian cricket team's persistent refusal to accept UDRS has prevented the system from achieving universal acceptance. Given India's hegemonic position in world cricket's administration, it could take several years until the system becomes standard.

While most fans and journalists tend to blame the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for its opposition to UDRS, it is now clear that the driving force behind this opposition is Sachin Tendulkar, the WG Grace of today. Just as paying spectators went to watch Grace play cricket in the 1890s, today's Indian fans attend matches to watch the player they have come to refer to as 'God'. While Tendulkar's genius is above question, his stature in the game has ensured that for much of his career, he received a greater benefit of doubt in marginal decisions than other cricketers. Additionally, as a relatively short batsman, he is often reprieved in close LBW situations.

Tendulkar's official explanation of his opposition to UDRS is that he only approves of the system when it includes Hot Spot, the infrared imaging technology. Yet he, along with MS Dhoni and other senior players, has now vetoed UDRS for India's upcoming tour of England — where Hot Spot would have been used. In this context, his opposition to UDRS is an opposition to more accurate decision-making in cricket.

In the US, with its obsessively star-driven sporting culture, Tendulkar would be lauded by journalists for earning the "respect of umpires". But with the rest of the global cricketing community clamouring for greater fairness through UDRS, his continued opposition merits comparison to Grace and Don Bradman, two great batsmen notorious for putting self-interest above the interests of cricket as a whole. Conversely, if Tendulkar changes his mind, the BCCI is sure to accept UDRS, and thus go some way in convincing other ICC members that India's dominance of world cricket is no despotism.

( Keshava D Guha is a Bangalore-based writer )

The views expressed by the author are personal




T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






The self-appointed representatives of civil society would like to remind us that the trouble with our politics is that you have absolutely no idea what sort of person might wind up being on top. Horrific and untidy, isn't it? "Suppose tomorrow, a corrupt person like Madhu Koda or A. Raja or any of the Reddy Brothers became prime minister," is a worry that runs through a letter written by the five Anna Hazare-nominated members of the Lokpal bill drafting committee to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

No doubt, were that appalling prospect to materialise, the entire constitutional structure would be instantly subverted in the few seconds it took them to swear themselves in. After all, PMs emerge from nowhere, right? It is not as if there is an election to win first, a coalition to build, the confidence of Lok Sabha to be ascertained and retained, the restraining nature of allies and coalition manifestos. It's not as if there is a voluble civil society either, to whip up a din at the slightest whiff of wrongdoing. And, of course, the PM is subject to no scrutiny whatsoever. There is no higher judiciary. There are no PILs. There is no investigative mechanism, and there are no parliamentary committees. The problem with democratic politics, especially in this era of coalitions, is that anyone can get to the top, and once there, there is pretty much no check on what they can do — wait a moment, did they say A. Raja and Madhu Koda? As it happens, the system is dealing with the Rajas and Kodas, with no little assistance from a vigilant civil society. These gentlemen have been rendered, till such time that they may prove their innocence, ineligible to be ministers, let alone PM.

However, the trouble with such free fantasising by Kejriwal, Bhushan and company is that it is fuelled by bias. Instead of looking at the institutional mechanisms that exist, and how they may be strengthened, it attempts to harness a middle-class yearning for gentility, for a mythical past when leadership was seen to be drawn from amongst "people like us". It's dangerous because it is exclusivity in the garb of activism. Unless the implication is that coalitions be banned by law — and there are enough illiberal suggestions afloat these days about minimising the space for small parties — a democratic system has to carry on in the world as it is and deal with whoever holds an office. The system has checks and balances built in, so this fantasising is simply anti-democratic scaremongering.






The Communist Party of India (CPI), India's original communist party, never retained more than a toehold in West Bengal after it split in 1964. Now, in 2011, it has more legislators even in Tamil Nadu than it does in Bengal. Bengal, having provided the Left's political clout and financial resources till the other day, the CPI's near non-existence there told the story of its redundancy, even though it reminded one its presence in pockets across the country. So the party had often proposed a merger with the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM). The CPM largely ignored the CPI's questioning of the need for two communist parties. It has changed tone now, at its weakest in three-plus decades, and reduced to just one state government — Tripura.

So, CPM leader Sitaram Yechury has acknowledged the call from the Left's "well-wishers" for merging the two parties "as soon as possible". He went on to say that, while desirable, the merger has to undergo due process, such as the "unification of various mass organisations and joint activities at the lower level". But the CPI's D. Raja believes the union has to happen at the top first, because the bottom-upwards process has already "failed". Raja adds that the only differences between the two right now are mere "programmatic differences".

The ideological war that split the CPI and gave birth to the CPM had begun when the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) asked the CPI leadership to moderate its attacks on Nehru's government. The CPI dropped its radicalism, attacked the Communist Party of China (CPC) after the Sino-Soviet divergence began, and became a Congress ally; the CPM stuck to the radical programme, attacked the "revisionist" CPSU and swore by Beijing. The CPI joined Bengal's Left Front only before the 1982 assembly election, well after the Emergency. While the CPI and CPM came closer thereon, Jyoti Basu (a surprise entrant into the CPM in 1964) began a moderation programme that made the CPM look increasingly like the old CPI, while the CPI itself irreversibly declined. If and when the two merge, the CPI will probably have to submit to the German re-unification model: being totally subsumed under big brother, to the last man, woman and organisation. It may not matter how weak the CPM is electorally.







As External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna joins the special summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation — which is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its founding on Wednesday in Astana in Kazakhstan — there is much hyperbole about the geopolitical transformation of Eurasia.

For the orphans of the Cold War, the SCO — led by China and Russia and including four Central Asian states Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan — represents either their darkest fears or fondest hopes.

For some in Europe and North America, the SCO is "anti-West" and "anti-NATO" and is readying to establish hegemony on the Asian landmass. For some outside the West, the SCO — which has India, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia as observers — is the dream alliance that Asia failed to organise during the Cold War but could be turned into a reality now.

For traditional geopolitical theorists, rising China has the potential to unite the heartland of Eurasia, end the centuries-old regional dominance by the Western maritime powers and make itself the pre-eminent nation in the world.

Much of this hype is rooted in the growing worldwide perception of an inevitable American decline and a relentless rise of China. The SCO summit also takes place amidst the US plans to downsize its military presence in Afghanistan starting next month and end its combat role there by 2014.

The SCO summit is expected to consider Kabul's application to be admitted as an observer. Until now, Afghanistan has been attending the SCO deliberations as a guest. At the Astana summit, the SCO is also expected to open the door for full membership of India and Pakistan.

Some SCO enthusiasts suggest that Delhi will soon have to make a geopolitical choice — between the continental Sino-Russian entente that beckons it from the north and the Asian maritime coalition led by the United States tempting it from the south.

Amid the US retreat, the continentalists argue, India might be isolated in Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond, if it does not line up behind China and Russia.

This is similar to the advice that Pakistan has reportedly offered Afghanistan — dump Washington, align with Beijing; forget NATO and look to SCO. But Beijing has reportedly cautioned Pakistani leaders against geopolitcal delusion and focus on mending fences with the US as well as its immediate neighbours, including India and Afghanistan.

As it rises in the international system, India is under no pressure to make immediate judgments on the shifting balance of power between a rising China and a troubled United States, let alone choose between the "crouching tiger" and the "crippled eagle". Like everyone else, India would hedge rather than tightly align with one or the other great power groupings.

In any event, the coherence of the SCO and its anti-Western orientation are somewhat exaggerated. China and Russia, which form the dual core of the SCO, are not always on the same page in defining the strategic priorities of the organisation. Moscow cannot but be wary of the rising Chinese influence in Central Asian space that was once part of the Soviet Union.

China and Russia might be interested in leveraging the SCO to improve their bargaining power with the United States, but the Central Asian Republics (CARs) have no problem seeing through this. Some of the CARs have been pretty good at extracting concessions from America in return for hosting US military bases and facilities.

The Obama administration itself has taken a positive view of the SCO and on a recent visit to China, US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Robert Blake, has called for a comprehensive dialogue between Washington and the SCO.

The US has indeed worked with Russia in developing the Northern Distribution Network, a road network in Eurasia, as an alternative to its current reliance on Pakistan for supplying international troops in Afghanistan. Washington has also urged China to take on a larger responsibility for stabilising Afghanistan.

From a pragmatic perspective, the SCO is a useful vehicle for India in the pursuit of three important national security objectives. The first is about managing the post-American scenario in Afghanistan.

While the US has the luxury of withdrawing from Afghanistan, Russia, the CARs, China and India remain vulnerable if negative forces fill the vacuum in Afghanistan.

All neighbours of Afghanistan, barring Turkmenistan, are part of the SCO in one form or another. The SCO, then, could provide the regional framework that everyone now wants for the stabilisation of Afghanistan.

The second is about fighting what China calls the "three evils" — separatism, religious extremism and terrorism. While China and India have long faced similar threats, Beijing has seemed reluctant to engage Delhi on these issues for fear of offending Islamabad's sensitivities. As the situation in Pakistan continues to deteriorate, India must explore the prospects of deeper regional security cooperation with China within the SCO framework.

The third is the SCO's utility in promoting economic integration between Central Asia and India. The SCO's focus in its first decade has been primarily on counter-terrorism. At Astana, it could widen the agenda to include economic integration.

Until now Delhi could not entice Pakistan to become the bridge between India on the one hand and Afghanistan and Central Asia on the other. Could the SCO do the trick?

If the size of the Indian market provides the necessary economic pull, the SCO could provide the necessary political push in encouraging Pakistan to open its territory for Central Asian connectivity with India.

An early agreement to build the TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India) natural gas pipeline, with the full participation of Russian and Chinese companies, could be the precursor for such an integration.

The SCO may or may not achieve the many ambitious regional objectives it is setting for itself. But Krishna has every reason to arrive in Astana to push for a stronger partnership with the SCO.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








The joint committee for drafting the Lokpal bill has, among other things, brought much attention to lawmaking itself. What indeed is the process of enacting a law? And what therein are the points of engagement with citizens and civil society?

A government bill may be introduced by a minister, and a private member bill by any member of Parliament. We focus here on government bills, as private member bills have rarely been passed. Only 14 private member bills have been passed by the Indian Parliament, the last one in 1970.

Government bills are drafted by the administrative ministry and vetted by the law ministry. During this process, the ministry may hold public consultations and also obtain views from other relevant government departments. The bills are discussed by the cabinet, which then agrees that these may be introduced in Parliament. Even the Lokpal bill needs to go through these steps, including cabinet approval.

A bill is introduced in either the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha through a motion (first reading). At this stage, any member may object to the introduction on limited grounds; for example, that the bill violates constitutional provisions, or that the subject is in the state list. Parliament may also vote to stop the introduction of a bill. For example, in 2009, several Rajya Sabha MPs objected to the introduction of a bill that required judges of the Supreme Court and high courts to declare their assets. The law minister decided not to press for introduction, and later brought a bill that addressed the concerns.

Most bills are referred to the relevant standing committee of Parliament. These committees have members from both the Houses and are required to examine the provisions of a bill and report back to Parliament. Usually, standing committees ask for public feedback, and also invite some stakeholders and experts for oral deposition. This process provides a good opportunity for civil society to express and explain its perspectives on a bill. There have been several instances when a committee has recommended significant changes to a bill. For example, after examining the civil nuclear liability bill, the standing committee on science and technology recommended amendments. Though these recommendations are not binding, the government often takes them into account and makes suitable changes.

The bill is then brought back to the House for consideration (second reading). At this stage, MPs discuss the bill in detail, including the consequences of various provisions. Following the discussion, each clause of the bill is voted upon, and any MP may move amendments to the clauses.

This is followed by the third reading, when the bill is taken up for passing. At this stage, the bill (as amended in the second reading) is voted upon. After the bill is passed, it is taken up by the other House for the second and third reading. Then the bill has to obtain the assent of the president, following which it becomes an Act.

It is important to note that all bills are not referred to a standing committee. In some cases, a bill incorporates recommendations of a committee on an earlier bill. However, there are several instances when the standing committee system is bypassed. In the current Lok Sabha, about 30 per cent of the bills were not referred to standing committees. These include a bill to amend the competition act and another to revise the salaries of MPs. There are also instances when one of the Houses decides to form a select committee to examine a bill. A recent example relates to the Prevention of Torture Bill. The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha and passed by the House without referring it to a standing committee. The Rajya Sabha, however, decided that the bill needed detailed examination and formed a select committee, which recommended several amendments.

Once an act is passed, the government makes rules that determine some of the details. For example, the Rules under the Information Technology Act were notified recently, which lay out standards for cyber cafes and content on the Internet. These rules may also be examined by a parliamentary committee or discussed (and amended) by Parliament.

This process of enacting a law provides several opportunities for citizens to engage with the system. These include making representations to parliamentary committees as well as to individual MPs and political parties.

It is important for citizens and civil society to understand and engage with the process, so that their views and concerns are heard and examined by Parliament. There is a further need to examine and voice any issues that arise from the rules and regulations notified by the government. Only an engaged and vigilant citizenry that uses constitutional mechanisms can strengthen the freedoms and promote welfare expected of a liberal democracy.

The writer is with PRS Legislative, Delhi







Rich and poor

In a People's Democracy article on the BPL census, CPM leader Brinda Karat criticises the retention of the concept of ranking based on questions and says that given "narrow automatic inclusion" criteria, the rural poor will be marked poor or non-poor through a ranking system. She points out that the numbers of the poor in each state have already been decided by the Planning Commission "on the basis of their dubious estimates" while the rural development ministry and its provincial counterparts identify who is to be included.

She argues that an easily verifiable exclusion category for the BPL census would be "unexceptionable" given the reality of social and economic inequalities in rural India, and the existence of the rural rich, big landlords and farmers, big traders and contractors. "The present criteria seem to be geared to stretching the exclusion category to a much higher percentage than is the actual case." Karat notes two-wheeler owners are being bracketed with tractor owners and will be automatically excluded. Similarly with owners of landline phones, when it is known that many SC/ST families or disabled persons, or others from vulnerable social categories may have a landline phone booth allotted to them in the village. "The automatic exclusion list is unfair and should be rectified... Moreover an automatic exclusion criteria makes sense only when the rest of the population is automatically included as eligible for the social security guarantee, but this is not the case in the present census," she says.

Leader Baba

An article in the same issue places Baba Ramdev's agitation in the context of capitalism. It says capitalism is supposed to bring in modernity, which includes a secular polity where "babas," and "swamis" have no role. Many have defended neo-liberal reforms, it says, saying they hasten capitalist development and the "march to modernity," an argument which the Left has always rejected. "If the rapid GDP growth of the country, its new-found 'prestige' in the international arena, and the globalisation of its elite had created an impression that the Left position was wrong, the episode of Baba Ramdev's fast-unto-death... should have dispelled it... The episode did not just underscore our lingering pre-modernity; it expressed something infinitely more disturbing... that neo-liberal India, far from countering pre-modernity, is actually strengthening it.

We have seen a revival of khap panchayats, and now we have had the spectre of a 'Baba' demanding constitutional amendments of his personal choice under the Damocles' sword of a fast-unto-death," it argues. It adds: "If a person commanding the loyalty of millions... uses that to mobilise them behind political demands, then we have a subversion of the secular polity... A government appeasing such a person is abetting that subversion... Baba Ramdev's fast-unto-death may have been terminated, but other swamis, and babas, not to mention Ramdev himself, are likely to come forward... with their own demands."

Show him the door

The editorial in CPI journal New Age says it is the turn of Union Textiles Minister Dayanidhi Maran to resign given allegations against him. "Maran stands accused of arm-twisting cellular company Aircel into selling out to the Malaysia-based Maxim group when he was telecom minister from 2004 to 2007," it says. "In return, Maran's family-run... Sun Network, is alleged to have received investment worth Rs 700 crore from the latter."

It adds the allegations are buttressed by the statement of Aircel's former owner before the CBI. It argues that charges of misconduct have been made against Maran before, and refers to some observations made by the Justice Shivraj Patil Committee. "In such a situation,", it argues, "it is not enough for PM Manmohan Singh to say the matter ought to be investigated without 'fear or favour'. Even for the sake of an impartial enquiry, it is imperative Maran is either forced to resign or he is kicked out immediately."

Compiled by Manoj C.G.







The UPA 2 government has completed its first two years in office. The Food Security Bill continues to elude consensus. Every now and then there is a new announcement that a comprehensive bill is round the corner. In the meantime, foodgrain rots and hunger remains unabated. Uncertainty surrounds even the existing unsatisfactory arrangements. So, what are the key issues that need to be resolved?

First and foremost, the scope of the bill. Should this only cover those who are below poverty line (BPL) or should it also cover the above poverty line (APL) families? After all, the right to food is the universal right of every citizen. It is true that those who are BPL, who are on the edge of hunger, must be our overriding priority. But how can we call something a "right" if everyone does not have it?

Second, what is the methodology which should be used to define BPL? Should this only be based on minimum calorific intake without regard to nutritional efficiencies? It is well-recognised that unless the entitlement covers clean drinking water, sanitation, hygiene and primary healthcare, along with deficiencies of micro nutrients, the absorptive capacity for food would be seriously compromised. So the question is, what do we want to achieve from the Food Security Bill? After all, it must enable every child, woman and man to have an opportunity for a healthy and productive life beyond mere access to calories required for existence. Therefore, the food security legislation should aim at overcoming the challenges of food security without losing sight of the broad definition and components of food security that have come to be accepted across the world. The interrelation between food and social security cannot be ignored and any effort of guaranteeing one without the rest will render food security ineffective

Third, even in the traditional sense in which poverty has been imperfectly defined, there are widely varying estimates of the number of poor people. As far as the number of BPL families are concerned, the Wadhwa committee estimates the number to be 20 crore, the state governments estimate the number as 10.5 crore, the Tendulkar committee put it as 9.5 crore, Arjun Sengupta committee 20 crore, N.C. Saxena 12.5 crore and the Planning Commission puts the figure at 7 crore. Recently, of course, the Planning Commission is inclined to accept the Tendulkar committee report which is half of the number suggested by the Wadhwa committee and is slightly below the state government estimates.

Of course, the financial implications vary dramatically from Rs 82,000 crore under the Wadhwa committee to Rs 18,000 crore under the Tendulkar committee, over and above the present allocations for subsidies. Until recently, poverty was estimated in India by measuring calorie intake, though the Tendulkar committee moved away from that to a broader definition. Methodology for the computation of poverty needs to be restructured by taking into account the new multi-dimensional approach of estimating poverty.

Fourth, related to the above is the issue of whether the entitlement should be 25 kg or 35 kg of foodgrain a month. There could also be a differentiated approach in which only those in the BPL category receive 35 kg, others like APL families receive the lower entitlement of 25 kg only. Price, no doubt, everyone has assumed, should be Rs 3 per kg.

Fifth, a major unresolved issue is the distribution modality since the bill will entail a massive increase in the quantum of foodgrain. Reliance on the public distribution system alone may prove inadequate. Everyone is familiar with the inherent leakages in the existing PDS in terms of quality of foodgrain, bogus ration cards, hoarding, profiteering and multiple ways of denying food to the powerless and disadvantaged. Of course, if the current PDS is to be continued, it will also entail enormous problems of food procurement, storage, transportation and all the other attendant evils we are fully familiar with. So should we not think of more innovative ways of administering food subsidy?

Two types of schemes are being increasingly mentioned. The first is a coupon system in which the intended beneficiary receives a food coupon which carries money value and gives him the option to buy foodgrain from any shop which gives him satisfaction. This creates competition between different outlets and will certainly improve the quality and enlarge consumer choice, minimise misuse and improve productivity. There is the second approach, that is, direct cash transfer by opening a bank account in the name of the intended beneficiary and transferring the money directly to the bank account. Countries like Brazil, which have experimented with conditional cash transfer, have achieved success in administering such schemes more efficiently.

Sixth, production and livelihood of food producers, from the household to the national level, constitute the core element of food security. You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure adequate food production, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. With continuing high growth in population and the stagnant area under foodgrain production, the right to food can only be ensured with a sustained growth in productivity levels, increased food procurement and by containing the colossal wastage of food.

Enacting a Food Security Act cannot be postponed. What kind of superpower can India hope to be if it cannot address the basic issue of starvation and hunger? We cannot afford to hasten slowly.

The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP







Charlie Sheen's meltdown took many forms: a cocaine-fuelled rampage in a hotel room, an erratic radio rant, a vulgar one-man comedy tour. But his biggest contribution to current culture may have been more subtle: With a simple Twitter phrase, #winning, known as a hashtag, Sheen underscored one of the newest ways technology has changed how we communicate.

Hashtags, words or phrases preceded by the # symbol, have been popularised on Twitter as a way for users to organise and search messages. So, for instance, people tweeting about Anthony Weiner might add the hashtag #Weinergate to their messages, and those curious about the latest developments in the scandal could simply search for #Weinergate. Or Justin Bieber fans might use #Bieber to find fellow Beliebers.

But already, hashtags have transcended the 140-characters-or-less platform, to become a new cultural shorthand, finding their way into chat windows, e-mail and conversations.

Audi's new commercial features a hashtag, #ProgressIs, that flashed on the screen and urged viewers to complete the "Progress Is" prompt on Twitter to win a prize. Then, in an election debate in Canada, Jack Layton attacked PM Stephen Harper's policies by calling them "a hashtag fail." And when Chris Messina, a developer at Google, wanted to introduce two friends over e-mail, he wrote #Introduction in the subject line. No need, he explained, for a long preamble when a quick, to-the-point hashtag would do.

Then again, Messina officially invented the Twitter hashtag in August 2007, when he sent out a Twitter message suggesting that the pound symbol be used for organising groups on Twitter. (For example, if attendees at the South by Southwest tech conference all add #sxsw to their messages, they can more easily search themselves on Twitter.) The idea quickly snowballed — on Twitter and offline.

"At first, people who weren't using Twitter were saying: 'What's this pound sign? Why am I seeing it?' " said Ginger Wilcox, a founder of the Social Media Marketing Institute. "I would say 2010 was really the year of the hashtag." Soon, people began using hashtags to add humour, context and interior monologues to their messages and everyday conversation. As Susan Orlean wrote in a New Yorker piece titled "Hash," the symbol can be "a more sophisticated, verbal version of the dread winking emoticon that tweens use to signify that they're joking."

"Because you have a hashtag embedded in a short message with real language, it starts exhibiting other characteristics of natural language, which means basically that people start playing with it and manipulating it," said linguist Jacob Eisenstein. "You'll see them used as humor, as meta-commentary, where you'll write a message and maybe you don't really believe it, and what you really think is in the hashtag." So, for instance, a messages that reads "3 hour delay on Amtrak #StimulusDollarsAtWork," likely implies that the user does not, in fact, think that their stimulus dollars are hard at work.

In a time-crunched world, the hashtag proved itself useful shorthand. "If Twitter is a compression of ideas and a compression of expression, then hashtags are just an extension of that," said Tracy Sefl, a political strategist. "In Washington, it's a very happy extension of an acronym-happy culture."

Using a hashtag is also a way for someone to convey that they're part of a certain scene. "You kind of have to be in-the-know," Messina said. "So it's one of those jokes where you're like, 'Oh, I see what you did there, because you're on Twitter and I'm on Twitter'. " Hashtags have also made their way into the vernacular. "Because of the use of hashtags, you can use one word to describe something and it's kind of a mental hashtag," Wilcox said. "So it's like, 'Awkward!' or "Winning!' And yes, definitely 'Fail.' "

Oxygen's Jane Olson said her network began using hashtags in their advertising in late 2010. "It's a nod to 'we know you and we live in your world,' " she said, adding, "The other funny thing that's been happening is that people around the office have started to talk in hashtags — 'Hashtag sorry I'm late,' or 'Hashtag bad day.' "

There is also the unofficial Hashtag Mafia, people who flash one another the hashtag sign — crossing their index and middle finger of one hand over the same two fingers of their other hand to create a physical hashtag. #IronicGesture #WeHope

"I have pictures of people actually using the actual hashtag symbol, and it's like they're flashing a gang sign," Wilcox said.

Messina takes a more philosophical, albeit lighthearted, view. "Anyone can join the Hashtag Mafia by using hashtags," he said. "You're not really in the mafia unless you do air hashtags."









When the UPA government came back to power without the support of the Left parties, in May 2009, the stock markets were so overjoyed the Sensex soared 17 per cent in a single day. But after two years of being in power the government has done precious little to push through reforms — and even with the state elections out of the way, reforms don't appear to be the government's priority. Little wonder then that India Inc is feeling somewhat let down and that the mood in the markets is distinctly downbeat.

The Sensex has gone nowhere since foreign institutional investors (FIIs) drove it up to its lifetime high of 21,005 in early November last year. They've been sitting on the sidelines in 2011 so far, whereas last year by this time they had already shopped for stocks worth about $4.5 billion. Fund managers are concerned that high inflation will keep interest rates elevated, hurting consumption; and also that policy inertia will delay capacity addition, which in turn would pull down growth. A recent meeting with the finance minister and his team has done little to reassure them that they are wrong, and that the growth momentum won't slip faster than it is just now. A just-released survey shows India is among the least-preferred markets in the Asia Pacific region.

Their apprehensions so far have been justified. As we saw in the three months to March 2011, the growth in investment decelerated sharply to just 0.4 per cent year-on-year, and it was consumption, which grew 7.5 per cent, that helped GDP rise by 7.8 per cent. Moreover, factory output grew at just 6.3 per cent year-on-year in April, a seven-month low, while core sector growth slowed to 5.2 per cent y-o-y in after turning in 7.4 per cent y-o-y in March. And wholesale inflation for May has come in 9.06 per cent, way above the expectations of 8.7 per cent. Had the government foreseen some of the food inflation, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) would not be readying to raise policy rates for the tenth time since March last year, even as it knows that sales of cars and trucks is slowing down. And while it's true some of the inflation is imported, a fair share has been the result of government spending, not always productive.

Moreover, even as the central bank has urged it to pass on the increase in crude oil prices to the consumer, UPA 2 continues to dither on deregulating fuel prices, though it has upped petrol prices. It's critical that the government moves quickly to pass on the burden of high oil prices, because it runs the risk of running up a much higher deficit than it had planned for, given that it also needs to subsidise food and fertiliser. That could have the deleterious consequence of crowding out private-sector investment — the last thing we can afford right now, when confidence is already low. Indeed, there is little time to be lost and the two dozen or so new pieces of legislation that were promised when the UPA came to power need to be in place soon; so far only the Right to Education has come through.

To begin with, the government needs to convince the state governments and that Goods and Services Tax (GST) can only benefit them. Next, it needs to usher in the Direct Tax Code (DTC) as also finalise changes to the Companies Act. Most crucially, though, the government needs to convince corporates that it will facilitate the acquisition of land, though of course taking care to see that the land-owners are not exploited. It also needs to speed up environmental assessments and other clearances, so that projects take off quickly — and also clarify about regulation, such as that for mining, where it has been proposed that profits be shared with locals. India Inc isn't really asking for too much; all it wants is less lethargy when it comes to clearing projects, greater clarity on regulation and a reasonable level of interest rates so that they can add capacity and consumers can leverage.

That should not be difficult to do. It's hard to understand why UPA 2 is dragging its feet on upping the FDI limit in insurance to 49 per cent even though the Left is not a partner in the coalition. Also, even after it has acknowledged the benefits of having FDI in multi-brand retail, there's no indication that this would be allowed soon. While there seems to be enough debate on subjects such as reforming pension schemes or attracting foreign funds through infrastructure funds, there's been little follow-up in the form of guidelines. And while the debt markets have been opened up to foreign buyers, the rules are way too restrictive to attract meaningful amounts of money. It's also surprising how instead of focussing on the larger issues of the fiscal deficit the government is discussing the capital structure of stock exchanges.

If the government doesn't move quickly we are staring at sub-8 per cent GDP growth in 2011-12 — which is a pity because it need not have been this way. While the common people will bear the brunt of this, the government too stands to lose through lower tax collections and smaller disinvestments. The government hopes to raise Rs 40,000 crore in 2011-12 by selling stakes in companies such as ONGC, IOC and SAIL. If the markets continue to be as listless as they are just now, shares will be sold at prices that are way lower than what the government hoped to get. The rain gods have done their bit; now it's the government's turn.

The writer is Mumbai Resident Editor of 'The Financial Express'








West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee must have realised by now that it is better to work through the legislature than employ the ordinance route, no matter how decisive the latter looks. The checks and balances of the system, she has found, offer a more viable option. In this case, it's all about returning land to the farmers of the aborted Tata car factory at Singur. Since the ruling alliance has a majority of 227 in a 294-member assembly, Banerjee should have held her nerve. In this context, the Left parties have also played a constructive role by offering valid criticism that made Governor MK Narayanan return the ordinance to the Cabinet. These are the takeaways from the first piece of legislative work of the new government in Kolkata. While the Left parties walked out of the assembly before the vote on the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Bill 2011 was undertaken, they clarified their protest was not against the Bill's contents but against the hasty manner in which it was being enacted, raising a whole host of technical issues. The true test of that, of course, will be the courts, if any party decides to challenge the Bill. But the new government seems to have managed to avoid a showdown with the Calcutta High Court order by steering clear of the Land Acquisition Act. The Bill allows the government to take possession of the 997.17 acres leased to the Tatas and return part of the land to the 'unwilling' farmers who didn't accept compensation. Since the land was initially acquired by the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation under the Land Acquisition Act, it would have been illegal to take back the land under that Act.

More than these aspects, the Bill opens up another possibility on the land debate in India. After a series of agitations that severely disrupted projects and governments across the nation, 2011 is proving to be more forward looking. The NAC has come out with its plan of 100% government-led acquisition, while the Mayawati-led government of Uttar Pradesh has offered an exact opposite. The Trinamool Congress Bill provides a less messy way for the state to return land if a project comes a cropper. This is a proviso that is not available in the current Land Acquisition Act. To that extent, these divergent options are creating a rich menu that India can profitably choose from.





Indian companies in the BPO sector are doing well, but the sector is on the wane. This is what one would expect in a maturing sector, where the companies merge to consolidate their positions, going up the value chain. In the process, once the most promising of sectors post liberalisation, it is moving out of Indian shores, farther East. The critical reason why the sector has lagged is the absence of innovation. The once sunrise industry is unable to control business dynamics like it once did. Wage inflation and high attrition rates are just two of the factors for the decline. The youth are no longer enamoured by the pay packets dished out by the sector; alternative career options appear more attractive. Now that's only one part of the story. The other aspect is the way in which some of the Asian nations have risen up the ranks. Countries like the Philippines, Vietnam and even Sri Lanka have woken up to the BPO opportunity and are offering services at lower costs. India's cost arbitrage, which was once its USP, has now come down to 20-25%, compared to 50-60% a few years ago. Margins have been shrinking over the last three years and the recession only made it worse for Indian BPO firms. Today, there are not more than 10 BPO firms that are considered worthy outfits. Most of the standalone BPOs are out of business and only the big daddies like TCS BPO, Genpact, Infosys BPO and Wipro BPO are getting any revenue of substance. And, as everyone knows by now, the epitaph has already been written on the Indian voice BPO turf. India is no longer a destination for voice process outsourcing—that business has moved further East.

An EY study says the growth rate of exports from the BPO sector is trailing IT services substantially. The growth drivers have changed roles. The solution lies in thinking about creating a niche. Doing the same things repeatedly cannot get the industry anywhere. Platform-based BPO services have been one successful method of gaining more traction. Companies like TCS BPO have utilised this to good effect. In a platform-based model, the BPO undertakes both the execution and management of the client's non-core businesses in its own technology platform. This results in great cost reduction. The service delivery moves from a people-centric model to a platform-centric one. This 'process-as-a-service' model offers the client usage-based flexible pricing options. This method has found many takers in the industry. The sector also has to think in terms of becoming a business partner to clients—something that the IT services firms have done beautifully—and not just think of reducing costs. The time to act is now.






In the last 15 months or so, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has relentlessly pursued the goal of inflation control as the number appears to be quite intransigent despite all the positive developments in agriculture. The results have not been encouraging so far and the impact has been limited.

How do we tackle inflation then? The answer could actually be staring in front of us that we have not taken into account. To understand more, let us look at the composition of inflation in terms of what are the sectors that influence inflation. Broadly speaking, primary products have a weight of 20%, fuel products 15% and manufactured goods 65%. Inflation has been relatively high in all the sectors by the pre-2009 standards and each of them is guided by a different government body that has influence over prices.

Let us look at primary products. Here the ministry of agriculture (MoA) has maintained that FY11 has been one of the best for agriculture. Yet prices have been rising and all the assurances of good monsoon, robust kharif and an ecstatic rabi harvest has not helped bring down prices. This is partly due to the fact that the ministry has been instrumental in increasing the minimum support prices (MSP) of all farm products. In the last 2 years, it has been increased by between 10% and 30%, which means that there is an inherent tendency for prices to go up as market benchmarks are increased. Last week, the MSPs were raised once again by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) across pulses, cereals, oilseeds and fibres. This means that there is an inherent upward bias in the market even though the government physically only deals in procurement of wheat and rice. By counter-intuitive reasoning, it may be concluded that MSPs have driven inflation since the government maintains that the high MSPs have helped to shift crop patterns and increase output. Here we are not passing a value judgement on whether it is justified or not.

Now let us look at the fuel prices that are increasing by around 13%. Higher crude oil prices make state-run oil marketing companies unviable and there is this constant call to align petro-product prices with those in the market (including by economists). The ministry of petroleum (MoP) decides on the pricing policy. Motor spirit prices directly feed into inflation with a weight of around 1%, while diesel comes with a direct weight of close to 5% and an indirect influence of 0.75-1% on prices. Although it makes economic sense to increase prices, it also adds to inflation.

Then there is the ministry of finance (MoF), which has its opinion on the subsidy bill on food and oil. To ensure that the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) targets are adhered to, it is reluctant to increase its expenditure and hence deficit, and is exerting pressure on the MoP to increase fuel prices. Curiously, the government can enhance its expenditure without the fear of being caught in the RBI's web of increasing interest rates as it gets its funds through the regular auctions, which come in at an average rate of around 8.4-8.5%.

The last sector, manufacturing, is the one which generates core inflation (non-food and fuel). If manufactured food products and textiles are excluded (as they are agro-based), then this group accounts for 45% of inflation and core inflation would be only 5% in April 2011. In fact, since April 2010, this entire group has shown an increase of between 5% and 6.5% consistently until April 2011 with limited volatility. This is where RBI policy can work.

But for this to happen we need to answer some questions. First, is consumption supported by bank finance increasing demand of houses (mortgages) or automobiles or consumer durable goods? Is investment by industry growing rapidly? Is industry holding on to large inventories? If the answer is yes, then interest rate hikes will lower demand by increasing cost of credit. But if the answer is a shoulder shrug then we may be barking up the wrong tree by raising rates.

The point that emerges is that we have a situation where different arms of the government are speaking different languages and expecting RBI to tackle inflation. So we have a case of food and fuel prices increasing on which RBI has no control—after all, no one borrows money to eat food. The poor anyway continue to starve as they are not credit worthy. Therefore, RBI may be forced to treat a malaise over which it really has limited control.

What is the solution? The MoA, CCEA, MoF, MoP and RBI should all sit together and discuss the inflation strategy. Currently we have every authority looking closely at its own jurisdiction and taking decisions to ensure that their houses are clean, while RBI has the tough job of finding solutions to inflation. We certainly must have all these 'arms' talk to each other continuously with a macro eye. This will ensure that we have a singular approach to inflation and eschew this seemingly chaotic situation where RBI is on one side and the others are pulling the strings in the other direction.

The author is chief economist, CARE Ratings. These are his personal views





The hectic negotiations over the much-hyped Indian free trade pact with the European Union seems to be drawing to a close. But though the agreement should have been finalised within this month, strident opposition by the ministries of heavy industry and environment is sure to delay its finalisation and the issue may drag on till the end of the calendar year.

Among the contentious issues raked up by the trade pact is the possible drop in import duties on big luxury vehicles. The rationale used by a section of the automotive industry opposed to the move is that it would deter global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from setting up manufacturing units in India—a logic that does not seem very convincing since luxury vehicles and the usual passenger vehicles do not fall in the same category. Irrespective of the duty structure, it is highly unlikely that any manufacturer of high-end luxury vehicles would set up a manufacturing base in India just to sell a few cars in a year!

The other logic given by the proponents of retaining the high duty structure is equally fallacious. They say that if the import duty is reduced, luxury vehicles would become cheaper by 40-50%, thereby creating pricing issues for other OEMs as well. They have relentlessly argued that other cars (in the lower price segments) would also have to adjust their prices owing to the infringement of luxury cars into their well-defined coteries. Once again, they fail to understand the difference between the target audience for regular vehicles and for the super-luxury ones.

The comments of Tata group chairman Ratan Tata supporting reduction in the duty of cars come as welcome relief since group company Tata Motors is the country's third largest passenger car manufacturer. However, detractors are sure to raise the bogey of self-interest here because any such move will enable cheaper

imports of Tatas' Jaguar Land Rover brand into the country.

The fact is that self-interest and lobby groups have for long stalled any effort by the government to open up the country to newer vehicles, fearing that European OEMs would flood the domestic market with their products. Consider the facts: every major European brand already has a presence in India with designated factory outlets—Mercedes-Benz has set up a facility at Pune, BMW opened its first plant at Chennai, Audi shares its manufacturing plant with its parent brand Volkswagen at Chakan, Renault has a R4,500-crore facility at Chennai along with its

alliance partner Nissan. Going by speculative reports, even French carmaker Peugeot Citroen is scouting for land in India.

With every major European OEM already invested in India, the argument that lower import duties would reduce FDI inflows is simply untenable. It is also worth highlighting that none of the Indian car makers—Maruti Suzuki, Tata Motors and M&M—are building high-end cars. Their focus is clearly defined and they are lining up heavy investments either in small cars or SUVs. In this context, a connoisseur of luxury vehicles would still settle for a Cadillac or a Hummer. And if these become 30-40% cheaper, then this might just open up a new

market for such fancy cars.

Equally baffling in the debate is the stand the environment ministry is

understood to have adopted. Rather than merely opposing the inevitable, it would be far more prudent for the environment guys to demand strict adherence to environment norms by the

imported cars once the customs duty is lowered or removed.

The boom in auto sales since the slowdown of 2008 has proved that

consumers are willing to loosen their wallets to ease their transportation ordeals. It is thanks to these consumers that the auto industry has reported a massive jump in turnover. Blindly opposing any cut in import duty is doing a huge disservice to Indian OEMs like Bajaj Auto, Tata Motors, M&M and Maruti Suzuki who are constantly rubbing shoulders with domestic players in foreign markets, proving time and again that Indian technology and quality of products are par excellence.







It was fully expected that Turkey's voters would return Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a third consecutive term. This success owes to the AKP's achievements in its nearly decade-long rule. With Mr. Erdogan at the helm, the country has undergone a successful economic transformation. At 9 per cent, it boasts the world's second highest growth after China. The 74 million-strong nation has a new confidence, an outcome of its political and economic stability. Turkey's foreign policy now has a mind of its own, giving it a higher profile on the international stage; while the Erdogan government remains committed to integration with Europe, the long wait for admission into the European Union has led Turkey into creating a place for itself in the West Asian region through vigorous engagement with its immediate neighbours. The result of the June 12 parliamentary election indicates national appreciation for many of AKP's policies. But not all of them. While the AKP took nearly 50 per cent of the vote, the result falls far short of the two-thirds it was seeking in order to be empowered to make unilateral amendments to the Constitution. Indeed, the party has won 15 fewer seats in the 550-seat Parliament than in 2007, this time's tally of 326 falling four short of the number required for putting proposed constitutional changes to a vote in a national referendum.

Prime Minister Erdogan must now seek political consensus for the reforms he has in mind. Considering the implications, this is just as well. From the time it first came to power in 2002, the conservative AKP, with a vision rooted in political Islam, made clear it did not embrace the strict secularism bequeathed by Turkey's founder Attaturk Mustapha Kemal. Much of the debate since then has revolved around the headscarf; in the last few years, the cloth, once strictly barred from the public sphere, has made a comeback. Last year, backed by a referendum, the government succeeded in changing the Constitution to make the military — a stern guardian of the Kemalist vision — more accountable to the government. Marginalising the military was a move that won wide backing and praise. But Turkey remains deeply divided on the role of religion in nation-building, as it is about switching to a French-style executive Presidency, which could perpetuate Mr. Erdogan's rule after his last term as Prime Minister. His enthusiasm for constitutional change is bound to be tempered by the results. Rather, with as many as 35 pro-Kurdish representatives in the new parliament, the Erdogan government will need to pay more attention to the longstanding demands of the Kurdish ethnic group.





If our knowledge of the number of unicellular and multicellular organisms found in the soil and in water bodies is incomplete, what we know about organisms thriving in subsurface environment is sketchy. The discovery of living multicellular nematodes or roundworms belonging to three different species, and the DNA of a fourth species, at depths ranging from 0.9 km to 3.6 km from the Earth's surface, has extended the known boundaries of Earth's biosphere. Before this discovery, scientists had harvested only unicellular bacteria from similar depths. One of the nematodes is a new species. It has been named Halicephalobus mephisto by the authors of a paper published recently in Nature ("Nematoda from the terrestrial deep subsurface of South Africa," by G. Borgonie et al.) The half-a-millimetre-long worms were recovered from the fracture water in three deep gold mines in the Witwatersrand basin near Johannesburg. The fracture water, which is different from mining water, flows from deep cracks in the Earth's crust and so is free from any contamination. According to carbon-14 dating, the facture water is 3,000 to 12,000 years old.

Unicellular and multicellular extremophiles have been found from unexpected and highly inhospitable conditions, including volcanic vents in mid-oceanic ridges, and below Antarctic ice sheets at a depth of about 180 metres. Although roundworms are well known for their physiological tolerance — surviving in a state of suspended animation or anabiosis for prolonged periods of time and metabolising aerobically even in low-oxygen conditions — their subsurface presence has still taken scientists by surprise. In fact, researchers have difficulty in understanding how unicellular organisms thrive at such depths. The presence of nematodes at such depths demonstrates their ability to tolerate and survive in highly hostile conditions like reduced oxygen levels, high temperature, and scarce food supply. For instance, the hypoxic condition in the fracture water is as low as 1 per cent of the oxygen levels found in most oceans, and temperatures are as high as 41°C — much higher than what their terrestrial counterparts can tolerate. A fully functional ecosystem appears to have been in place in the fracture water. Sequencing the worms can provide answers to whether the worms had migrated to the fracture waters and adapted themselves to the harsh conditions. Science once again highlights the truth that the presence of unicellular as well as multicellular life in unthinkable environments is limited only by our imagination to explore — not by their ability to survive.







Turks in their millions headed for the polls on June 12 to participate in a crucial parliamentary election which is likely to have a strong bearing on not only the country's immediate future but also on millions outside, who are in the midst of an "Arab Spring." Capturing the spirit of a series of bold pro-democracy uprisings in West Asia and North Africa, the Arab Spring promises to liberate vast multitudes in the region — from a stifling era of authoritarian rule.

Turkey is important to the rest of the world because it has been undergoing a profound transformation — many say a Renaissance — since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's A.K. Party (AKP) or the Justice and Development Party was elected to office in 2003. Over the last 11 years, Turkey has shown that it is possible to stitch together a winning combination of democracy, Islam and capitalism. Millions have been lifted out of poverty, and a new class of businessmen and entrepreneurs has emerged in Anatolia — the once "backward" Asiatic part of eastern Turkey. The economic miracle that Turkey has become is an eye-opener to those who have been routinely churning out stereotyped economic models for developing societies.

But Turkey's success goes beyond demonstrating how traditional societies can engage successfully in cutting-edge business in the age of globalisation. Its real success may lie in its ability to define a sustainable model that promotes international security by mainly relying on soft power. By showing millions of Muslims and non-Muslims alike that piety can coexist, if not thrive, with entrepreneurship, hard work and liberal democracy, Turkey has illuminated a path that the depressed youth in West Asia and beyond can now pursue. It has shown them alternative trails, other than the hopelessly self-destructive route charted by extremist groups such as al-Qaeda.

Turkey's unique blend of democracy and Islam minus the hard edge of fundamentalism was echoed sharply during the Egyptian uprising which, a few months ago, brought down President Hosni Mubarak. The example of the "Turkish model" resonated strongly during the demonstrations at the Tahrir Square, especially among youth belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical but loosely structured Muslim transnational organisation which has been undergoing a gradual transformation in recent years. The Turkish experience of recent years has also struck a chord with Yemen, especially within the Islamist Islah party, which has a major Muslim Brotherhood component. In future, Turkey may well have to play a leading role in neighbouring Syria, should a transition commence from the Allawite regime of President Bashar Al Assad to a new dispensation, probably again with a strong Muslim Brotherhood core.

Turkey's spats with Israel over the treatment of Palestinians have been a major factor in transforming its image in the Muslim world. Taking advantage of the political space for manoeuvre in the region, Turkey has followed it up with concerted efforts to shore up commercial and political ties with neighbours, especially Syria and Iran, known for their anti-Israeli positions. The breach of its ties with Israel allowed Turkey to reposition itself advantageously in West Asia, permitting it to tap new political and economic options in the region. Simultaneously, it provided Turkey the opportunity to loosen its traditional fixation with Europe — visible in Ankara's unquenched thirst for decades — of becoming a member of the coveted European Union.

Turkey has emerged as an influential player, partly on account of the surge in resources under its command. For its growing financial clout, Turkey's leaders owe a great deal of debt to the new class of businessmen that has emerged in Anatolia. Once in industrial backwaters, the city of Kayseri, around 880 km east of Istanbul in Anatolia, has become a major hub of manufacturing textiles and furniture. Taking advantage of cheap credit and an export-oriented trade policy encouraged in the 1980s by Prime Minister Turgut Ozal, businessmen in Kayseri are now raking in billions of dollars through manufacturing and trade. By 2007, furniture exports were yielding cash flows beyond $1 billion. Nearly every major brand of jeans in the world uses denim produced in Turkey, with large volumes flowing out of Anatolia.

Apart from the pro-business ambience that the government initially created, it is the mental make-up of the Anatolian entrepreneur, which seamlessly combines religious conservatism with a fierce commitment to globalisation and market principles that has been at the heart of the region's success. The mosque has been not only a place of worship but an arena for socialisation. The Nurcu circles, formed by the followers of Turkish thinker Said Nursi, have become avenues for networking and striking deals. In the words of Vali Nasr, author of Forces of Fortune: The rise of the new Muslim middle class and what it will mean for us, Anatolian businessmen "combine religion, hard work and economic innovation in much the same way as did Calvinist Burghers of northern Europe in the sixteenth century when capitalism was just starting out." Mr. Nasr points out that many in Kayseri readily identify with "how Calvinists worked hard, prayed hard, saved money and then invested it in their businesses — and were comfortable being both rich and pious."

The wealth generated by Turkey's new business class has galvanised an ideology and movement that has begun to touch the lives of millions across the world. The Gulen movement is rooted in the ideas of Fethullah Gulen. Mr. Gulen, who began his career in 1953 as an Islamic teacher, had to flee to the United States, following the surfacing in 1999 of a video, in which he seemed to have been espousing a gradual Islamic takeover of Turkey, by asking his followers to quietly infiltrate all organs of the state until their presence acquired a critical mass. He was later cleared of all charges but only after he had begun residing in a Pennsylvania country estate, from where his messages of moderation, inter-faith dialogue and primacy of education as a tool of liberty and economic well-being have been radiating across the globe.

In an article written for the Singapore-based S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Mohamed Nawab Osman points out that in Mr. Gulen's view "it is unIslamic for Muslims to advocate the formation of an Islamic state," a position that pitches the Gulen movement far away from the views of jihadists calling for the establishment of a caliphate, based on Islamic law, as a core element of their end-game. Mr. Osman adds: "He [Mr. Gulen] believes that Muslims must support and be active participants of democracy and a free-market economy, so as to align themselves with the mainstream global processes. In accordance with his opposition to an Islamic state, he also does not favour the state applying Islamic law." With its strong focus on education, the Gulen movement promotes establishment the world over of quality schools which, despite the personal views of teachers, are secular in orientation, and usually follow the national curriculum of the host country.

The Gulen movement's link to Anatolian businessmen has been well established. The BBC quoted Serdarj Yesilyurt from Turkey's Federation of Businessmen and Industrialists, as saying that 95 per cent of his members support Mr. Gulen. The movement is not short of funds as its followers in the business community contribute 5-20 per cent for its cause, a recent study reveals. These contributions feed into the concept of Zakat — one of the five pillars of Islam which espouses contribution of surplus wealth for charity.

Backed by what has been described by some as the emerging "Islamic bourgeoisie" and followers of social movements such as Gulen, the victory of Mr. Erdogan's AKP in Sunday's poll was a foregone conclusion. Unsurprisingly, the party secured 50 per cent of the vote — the highest recorded since it began contesting elections in 2002. In terms of seats, the AKP got 326 in the 550-member Parliament. However, this still fell short of the 367-mark that it had wished to scale. Had it managed a "super-majority," the AKP would have been in a position to re-write unopposed the existing Constitution, which was drafted under the influence of the military that toppled a civilian government in 1980. Nevertheless, Mr. Erdogan has not given up on his ambition of embracing a new Constitution, based on a national consensus. Buoyed by an impressive electoral performance, Turkey's culturally sensitive leaders are also well positioned to shape, as it meanders into the heat of summer, the Arab Spring, which is now looking for solid but nuanced political direction, preferably from an established regional powerhouse.









American and Afghan officials are locked in increasingly acrimonious secret talks about a long-term security agreement which is likely to see U.S. troops, spies and air power based in the troubled country for decades.

Though not publicised, negotiations have been under way for more than a month to secure a strategic partnership agreement which would include an American presence beyond the end of 2014 — the agreed date for all 1,30,000 combat troops to leave — despite continuing public debate in Washington and among other members of the 49-nation coalition fighting in Afghanistan about the speed of the drawdown.

American officials admit that although Hillary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, recently said Washington did not want any "permanent" bases in Afghanistan, her phrasing allows a variety of possible arrangements.

"There are U.S. troops in various countries for some considerable lengths of time which are not there permanently," a U.S. official told the Guardian.

Precedents include the U.S. military presence in Europe and Japan since the Second World War and, more recently, in Iraq.

Bases? Concern

British troops, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) officials say, will also remain in Afghanistan long past the end of 2014, largely in training or mentoring roles.

Although they will not be "combat troops" that does not mean they will not take part in combat. Mentors could regularly fight alongside Afghan troops, for example.

Senior NATO officials also predict that the insurgency in Afghanistan will continue after 2014.

There are at least five bases in Afghanistan which are likely candidates to house large contingents of American special forces, intelligence operatives, surveillance equipment and military hardware post-2014. In the heart of one of the most unstable regions in the world and close to the borders of Pakistan, Iran and China, as well as to central Asia and the Persian Gulf, the bases would constitute rare strategic assets.

News of the U.S.-Afghan talks has sparked deep concern among powers in the region and beyond. Russia and India are understood to have made their concerns about a long-term U.S. presence known to both Washington and Kabul. China, which has pursued a policy of strict non-intervention beyond economic affairs in Afghanistan, has also made its disquiet clear. During a recent visit, senior Pakistani officials were reported to have tried to convince their Afghan counterparts to look to China as a strategic partner, not the U.S.

American negotiators will arrive later this month in Kabul for a new round of talks. The Afghans rejected the Americans' first draft of a strategic partnership agreement in its entirety, preferring to draft their own proposal. This was submitted to Washington two weeks ago. The U.S. draft was "vaguely formulated", one Afghan official told the Guardian.

Afghan demands

Afghan negotiators are now preparing detailed annexes to their own proposal which lists specific demands.

The Afghans are playing a delicate game, however. President Hamid Karzai and senior officials see an enduring American presence and broader strategic relationship as essential, in part to protect Afghanistan from its neighbours.

"We are facing a common threat in international terrorist networks. They are not only a threat to Afghanistan but to the west. We want a partnership that brings regional countries together, not divides them," said Rangin Spanta, the Afghan National Security Adviser and the lead Afghan negotiator on the partnership.

The Afghans nonetheless hope to extract the highest price possible from Washington.

"We want Afghanistan to benefit financially too from U.S. presence here," an Afghan official with knowledge of the talks said.

Dr. Ashraf Ghani, a former presidential candidate and one of the negotiators, said that, although NATO and the U.S. consider a stable Afghanistan to be essential to their main strategic aim of disrupting and defeating al-Qaeda, a "prosperous Afghanistan" was a lesser priority. "It is our goal, not necessarily theirs," he said.

Though Ghani stressed "consensus on core issues," big disagreements remain.

Three issues

One is whether the Americans will equip an Afghan air force. Karzai is understood to have asked for fully capable modern combat jet aircraft. This has been ruled out by the Americans on grounds of cost and fear of destabilising the region.

Another is the question of U.S. troops launching operations outside Afghanistan from bases in the country. From Afghanistan, American military power could easily be deployed into Iran or Pakistan post-2014. Helicopters took off from Afghanistan for the recent raid which killed Osama bin Laden.

"We will never allow Afghan soil to be used [for operations] against a third party," said Spanta.

A third contentious issue is the legal basis on which troops might remain. Afghan officials are keen that any foreign forces in their country are subject to their laws. The Afghans also want to have ultimate authority over foreign troops' use and deployment.

"There should be no parallel decision-making structures ... All has to be in accordance with our sovereignty and constitution," Spanta said.

Nor do the two sides agree over the pace of negotiations. The U.S. want to have agreement by early summer, before President Barack Obama's expected announcement on troop withdrawals. This is "simply not possible," the Afghan official said.

There are concerns too that concluding a strategic partnership agreement could also clash with efforts to find an inclusive political settlement to end the conflict with the Taliban. A "series of conversations" with senior insurgent figures are under way, one Afghan minister has told the Guardian.

A European diplomat in Kabul said: "It is difficult to imagine the Taliban being happy with U.S. bases [in Afghanistan] for the foreseeable future." Senior NATO officials argue that a permanent international military presence will demonstrate to insurgents that the west is not going to abandon Afghanistan and encourage them to talk rather than fight.

The Afghan-American negotiations come amid a scramble among regional powers to be positioned for what senior U.S. officers are now describing as the "out years."

Mark Sedwill, the NATO senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, recently spoke of the threat of a "Great Game 3.0" in the region, referring to the bloody and destabilising conflict between Russia, Britain and others in south-west Asia in the 19th century.

Afghanistan has a history of being exploited by — or playing off — major powers. This, Dr Ghani insisted, was not "a vision for the 21st century."

Instead, he said, Afghanistan could become the "economic roundabout" of Asia. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011








Drought zones have been declared across much of England and Wales, yet Scotland has just registered its wettest-ever May. The warmest British spring in 100 years followed one of the coldest U.K. winters in 300 years. June in London has been colder than March. February was warm enough to strip on Snowdon, but last Saturday (June 4) it snowed there.

Welcome to the climate rollercoaster, or what is being coined the "new normal" of weather. What was, until quite recently, predictable, temperate, mild and equable British weather, guaranteed to be warmish and wettish, ensuring green lawns in August, now sees the seasons reversed and temperature and rainfall records broken almost every year. When Kent receives as much rain (4mm) in May as Timbuktu, Manchester has more sunshine than Marbella, and soils in southern England are drier than those in Egypt, something is happening.

Sober government scientists at the centre for hydrology and ecology are openly using words like "remarkable," "unprecedented" and "shocking" to describe the recent physical state of Britain this year, but the extremes we are experiencing in 2011 are nothing to the scale of what has been taking place elsewhere recently.


Last year, more than 2m of eastern Europe and Russia scorched. An extra 50,000 people died as temperatures stayed more than 6°C above normal for many weeks, crops were devastated and hundreds of giant wild fires broke out. The price of wheat and other foods rose as two thirds of the continent experienced its hottest summer in around 500 years. This year, it's western Europe's turn for a mega-heatwave, with 16 countries, including France, Switzerland and Germany (and Britain on the periphery), experiencing extreme dryness. The blame is being out on El Nino and La Nina, naturally occurring but poorly understood events that follow heating and cooling of the Pacific Ocean near the equator, bringing floods and droughts.

Vast areas of Europe have received less than half the rainfall they would normally get in March, April and May, temperatures have been off the scale for the time of year, nuclear power stations have been in danger of having to be shut down because they need so much river water to cool them, and boats along many of Europe's main rivers have been grounded because of low flows. In the past week, the great European spring drought has broken in many places as massive storms and flash floods have left the streets of Germany and France running like rivers.


But for real extremes in 2011, look to Australia, China and the southern U.S. these past few months. In Queensland, Australia, an area the size of Germany and France was flooded in December and January in what was called the country's "worst natural disaster."

In China, a "once-in-a-100-years" drought in southern and central regions has this year dried up hundreds of reservoirs, rivers and water courses, evaporating drinking supplies and stirring up political tensions. The government responded with a massive rain-making operation, firing thousands of rockets to "seed" clouds with silver iodide and other chemicals. It may have worked: for whatever reason, the heavens opened last week, a record 30cm of rain fell in some places in 24 hours, floods and mudslides killed 94 people, and tens of thousands of people have lost their homes.

Meanwhile, north America's most deadly and destructive tornado season ever saw 600 "twisters" in April alone, and 138 people killed in Joplin, Missouri, by a mile-wide whirlwind. Arizonans were this week fighting some of the largest wildfires they have known, and the greatest flood in recorded U.S. history is occurring along sections of the Missouri river. This is all taking place during a deepening drought in Texas and other southern states — the eighth year of "exceptional" drought there in the past 12 years. The impacts of extreme weather are greater in poorer countries, which this week are trying to secure a climate deal in the resumed talks in Bonn.

In Mexico, the temperature peaked at 48.8°C in April, the warmest anywhere in the world that month, and nearly half the country is now affected by drought. There have already been 9,000 wildfires, and the biggest farm union says that more than 3.5 million farmers are on the brink of bankruptcy because they cannot feed their cattle or grow crops.

Stronger patterns; Tracker site

"We are being battered by the adverse impacts of climate change," says a negotiator for the G77 group of developing countries who wants to remain anonymous. "Frontline states face a double crunch of climate heat and poverty. But the rich countries still will not give us the cash they promised to adapt or reduce their emissions." Wherever you look, the climate appears to be in overdrive, with stronger weather patterns gripping large areas for longer and events veering between extremes.

Last year, according to U.S. meteorologist Jeff Masters, who co-founded leading climate tracker website Weather Underground, 17 countries experienced record temperatures. Colombia, the Amazon basin, Peru, Cuba, Kenya, Somalia and many other countries have all registered far more or less rainfall or major heatwaves in the past few years, he says. Temperatures in Bangladesh have been near record highs, leaving at least 26 people dead in the past week; Kuwait has seen temperatures in excess of 50°C and Rajasthan in India 49.6°C, while parts of Canada, including Toronto, have been sizzling at a record 33°C.

Rich countries may be more or less immune in the short-term because the global trading system guarantees food and access to electricity allows air conditioning, but in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, millions of people this year have little or no food left after successive poor rainy seasons. Last week, international aid agencies warned of an impending disaster.

More frequent now

Sceptics argue that there have always been droughts and floods, freak weather, heatwaves and temperature extremes, but what concerns most climate scientists and observers is that the extreme weather events are occurring more frequently, their intensity is growing and the trends all suggest long-term change as greenhouse gases steadily build in the atmosphere.

Killer droughts and heatwaves, deeper snowfalls, more widespread floods, heavier rains, and temperature extremes are now the "new normal," says Nikhil da Victoria Lobo of the giant insurance firm Swiss Re, which last month estimated losses from natural disasters have risen from about $25bn a year in the 1980s to $130bn a year today. "Globally, what we're seeing is more volatility," he says.

People in the most affected areas are certainly not waiting for climate scientists to confirm climate change is happening before they adapt.

In Nepal, where the rain is heavier than before, flat roofs are giving way to pitched roofs, and villagers in the drought-prone Andes are building reservoirs and changing crops to survive.

New analysis of natural disasters in 140 countries shows that climate is becoming more extreme. Last month, Oxfam reported that while the number of "geo-physical" disasters — such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions — has remained more or less constant, those caused by flooding and storms have increased from around 133 a year in 1980s to more than 350 a year now.

"It is abundantly clear that weather-related disasters have been increasing in some of the world's poorest countries and this increase cannot be explained fully by better ways of counting them," says Steve Jennings, the report's author. "Whichever way you look at the figures, there is a significant rise in the number of weather-related disasters. They have been increasing and are set to get worse as climate change further intensifies natural hazards.

"I think that global 'weirding' is the best way to describe what we're seeing. We are used to certain conditions and there's a lot going on these days that is not what we're used to, that is outside our current frame of reference," says climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University.

New trends have been emerging for a decade or more, says the UN's World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). "In Europe, a clear trend is emerging towards drier springs. This year's drought follows exceptionally dry years in 2007, 2009 and 2010," says a spokesman.

While no scientist will blame climate change for any specific weather event, many argue that these phenomena are textbook examples of the kind of impact that can be expected in a warming world. Natural events, such as La Nina and El Nino, are now being exacerbated by the background warming of the world, they say.

What researchers say

"It is almost impossible for us to pinpoint specific events . . . and say they were caused by climate change," says William Chameides, atmospheric scientist at Duke University, who was vice-chair of a U.S. government-funded National Research Council study on the climate options for the U.S. which reported last month. "On the other hand, we do know that because of climate change those kinds of events will very, very likely become more common, more frequent, more intense. So what we can say is that these kinds of events that we are seeing are consistent with climate change." He is backed strongly in Europe. "We have to get accustomed to such extreme weather conditions, as climate change intensifies," says Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, assistant director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

"Heavy storms and inundations will happen in northern Germany twice or three times as frequently as in the past." "We've always had El Ninos and natural variability, but the background which is now operating is different. [La Nina and El Nino] are now happening in a hotter world [which means more moisture in the atmosphere]," David Jones, head of climate monitoring and prediction at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne told Reuters after the Queensland floods.

David Barriopedro, a researcher at Lisbon University's Instituto Dom Luiz, last month compared last year's European heatwave with the one that struck in 2003 and calculated that the probability of a European summer experiencing a "mega-heatwave" will increase by a factor of five to 10 within the next 40 years if the warming trends continue. "This kind of event will become more common," he says. "Mega-heatwaves are going to be more frequent and more intense in the future." But there may be some respite coming from extreme weather because the El Nino/La Nina episodes are now fading fast, according to the WMO.

"The weather pattern, blamed for extremely heavy downpours in Australia, South-East Asia and South America over late 2010 and early 2011, is unlikely to redevelop in the middle of 2011," it advises. "Looking ahead beyond mid-year 2011, there are currently no clear indications for enhanced risk of El Nino or La Nina in the second half of the year."

The WMO concludes, tentatively, that global weather will now return to something approaching normal. The trouble is, no one is too sure what normal is any more. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011





In a decision last week in Washington in a patent case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. puzzled out the meaning of a federal law by consulting the usual legal materials — and five dictionaries.

One of the words he looked up was "of." He learned that it means pretty much what you think it means.

In May alone, the justices cited dictionaries in eight cases to determine what legislators had meant when they used words like "prevent," "delay" and "report." Over the years, justices have looked up both perfectly ordinary words ("now," "also," "any," "if") and ones you might think they would know better than the next guy ("attorney," "common law").

All of this is, lexicographers say, sort of strange.

"I think that it's probably wrong, in almost all situations, to use a dictionary in the courtroom," said Jesse Sheidlower, the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. "Dictionary definitions are written with a lot of things in mind, but rigorously circumscribing the exact meanings and connotations of terms is not usually one of them."

J. Gordon Christy, a professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, surveyed the scene in 2006, and he did not like what he saw. "We are treated," Mr. Christy wrote in The Mississippi Law Journal, "to the truly absurd spectacle of august justices and judges arguing over which unreliable dictionary and which unreliable dictionary definition should be deemed authoritative."

New study

In the last two decades, the use of dictionaries at the Supreme Court has been booming.

A new study in The Marquette Law Review found that the justices had used dictionaries to define 295 words or phrases in 225 opinions in the 10 years starting in October 2000. That is roughly in line with the previous decade but an explosion by historical standards. In the 1960s, for instance, the court relied on dictionaries to define 23 terms in 16 opinions.

Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Benjamin N. Cardozo and Louis D. Brandeis managed to make it through distinguished careers on the Supreme Court without citing dictionaries.

Learned Hand, widely considered the greatest judge never to have served on the Supreme Court, cautioned against the mechanical examination of words in isolation.

"It is one of the surest indexes of a mature and developed jurisprudence not to make a fortress out of the dictionary," Judge Hand wrote in a 1945 decision, "but to remember that statutes always have some purpose or object to accomplish, whose sympathetic and imaginative discovery is the surest guide to their meaning."

On May 26, Justice Stephen G. Breyer made a similar point in criticising Chief Justice Roberts for turning to a dictionary in a case about tough penalties for businesses that hire illegal workers. "Neither dictionary definitions nor the use of the word 'license' in an unrelated statute," Justice Breyer wrote, "can demonstrate what scope Congress intended the word 'licensing' to have as it used that word in this federal statute."

That same day in another case, Justice Breyer cited the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary to help determine what Congress had intended when it used the word "prevent" in a federal statute. (An article in Brigham Young University Law Review last year speculated that Justice Breyer, who attended Oxford, may turn to the O.E.D. "out of nostalgia for his alma mater.")

The authors of the Marquette study, Jeffrey L. Kirchmeier and Samuel A. Thumma, said the justices had never really said precisely what dictionary definitions were doing in legal opinions. They urged the justices to explain "when and how dictionaries should be used, how a specific dictionary should be chosen and how to use a dictionary for interpretation."

The justices have cited more than 120 dictionaries, which is suggestive of cherry picking. "It's easy to stack the deck by finding a definition that does or does not highlight a nuance that you're interested in," said Mr. Sheidlower, the O.E.D. editor.

Justices who try to discern the original meaning of the Constitution sometimes consult older dictionaries, which makes sense given that usage may have shifted over time.

In a 1995 concurrence, for instance, Justice Clarence Thomas looked to dictionaries from 1773, 1789 and 1796 to determine what the framers of the Constitution meant by "commerce," a question now in play in the challenges to the recent health care law. (They meant, Justice Thomas found, "selling, buying and bartering, as well as transporting for these purposes.")

The case for using dictionaries to determine the meaning of modern statutes is weaker, in part because the materials consulted by the people who compile definitions can skew the results. A 1988 survey of the lexicographic staffs of five publishers concluded that "the 'polite press,' with The New York Times at its pinnacle" is "the single most powerful influence in constituting the record of the English lexicon."

A decade later, Ellen P. Aprill, who teaches at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, considered the implications of that finding in an article on "dictionary shopping in the Supreme Court."

"It may also be a surprise to the Supreme Court justices who look to dictionaries as authorities in construing statutes," Ms. Aprill wrote in the Arizona State Law Journal, "that in good measure they are interpreting law according to The New York Times." — © New York Times News Service






Two years after the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the battlefield killing of its supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran, there is alas little to suggest that the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has projected any fresh ideas to clinch an inclusive political settlement with that country's Tamil minority. The closure of nearly a quarter century of military conflict should have given President Rajapakse the moral authority to lead with ideas and action in this context. Indeed, Sri Lanka's Northern Province, home to most of the country's Tamils, does not as yet have an elected provincial council while the country's remaining eight provinces do so.
Perhaps Colombo is apprehensive that if such an elected body takes office, it would be able to press its case for devolution of powers within a federal structure, or may be something even wider. But it should be evident to a confident Colombo that it is precisely when the broad idea of self-rule within a federal setup is denied that there might be fears of new prairie fires starting. The upshot of this can be the further enfeeblement of the Sri Lankan state when it has just emerged from a prolonged period of sapping conflict. In spite of the sensitivities associated in India with Sri Lanka's Tamil question, and a natural sympathy for Tamils who live on both sides of the Palk Strait, even at the height of the LTTE's military and political influence New Delhi always gave short shrift to the idea of an independent Tamil Eelam, and strongly supported the idea of a meaningful devolution of powers within a federal Sri Lanka.
It is to reinforce this sentiment — which makes good practical sense and is also well-grounded in theoretical postulates rooted in the present-day international notion that existing borders should not be sought to be redrawn — that a three-member delegation of top Indian officials led by national security adviser Shivshankar Menon visited Sri Lanka recently where it called on the President and took soundings from different quarters. It is noteworthy that, while emphasising the benefits of devolution, the Indian team did not especially push for the acceptance by Colombo of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which derives from the India-Sri Lanka accord of 1987. A reference to the 13th Amendment had uptil now been a part of New Delhi's advice. In January 2009, then external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee had briefly visited Colombo chiefly to underline the inherent value of an inclusive political agreement with the Tamil minority, especially after the military victory of the Sri Lankan state over the independence-seeking LTTE. In the last phase of Colombo's war against the LTTE, India had given the former protective political cover against international demands for a halt to the endgame.
In the past one year, President Rajapakse has said he has a particular agreement with the Tamils in mind, but has been reluctant to indicate even its broad outlines, preferring instead that the Opposition parties, the Tamil National Alliance (the umbrella party of various Tamil interests), and the government first negotiate points of agreement. That process is on and the next consultation is due on June 23. Even so, Colombo might do well to indicate that it would contemplate no step that overlooks the "equitable" aspect of any proposed devolution package. In India, leaving jurisdiction over land and police (law and order) to states (provinces in Sri Lanka) has served us well even in troubled times. Colombo might usefully look at this model. In New Delhi recently, Sri Lanka's foreign minister G.L. Peiris said his government would improved upon the 13th Amendment. That's a good sign, but Colombo might usefully begin to indicate the first steps in that direction.





Let us not get bogged down in the dreary details of what the Economist rightly calls the "farce" into which Baba Ramdev's "fast unto death" against black money and corruption turned. After being shifted to Hardwar, the tragicomedy has come to a halt with the end of the fast. The yoga guru's threat to continue his satyagraha has yet to unfold itself. However, hitherto the bumbling and bungling government has done itself huge damage. The blame for this rests squarely on the Congress that, since the ignominious collapse of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Mamata Banerjee's triumphant march from Delhi to Writers' Building in Kolkata, has been running the show in Delhi.
A few pertinent points about the sordid goings-on need to be made, nevertheless. First, the Congress is evidently unable to comprehend that people's anger against corruption is so intense that even when someone with dubious credentials takes up this issue, it is bound to evoke massive popular support. This failure is aggravated by the party's demonstrably false claim of having acted against graft and venality more vigorously than any other party at any time. If so, why was former telecom minister A. Raja protected and pampered for over two years before being asked to resign and later imprisoned?
Also, would the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have arrested Hasan Ali, who had been strutting around freely for over three years, without the higher judiciary's stern directions?
Secondly, nothing could have been more bizarre than the four senior ministers first trotting to the airport to placate Baba Ramdev and then, in sheer panic, deciding to crack down savagely on Ramdev's followers sleeping peacefully. Ironically, this brutality — now under the Supreme Court's scanner — was unleashed at a time when the Baba's agitation was losing steam. Home minister P. Chidambaram's and human resources development minister Kapil Sibal's belated, arrogant and threatening defence of the outrage has compounded the original sin. Particularly unbecoming is the home minister's attempt to shift the blame to the Delhi police.
Thirdly, mini-Machiavellis of the Congress had planned to "drive a wedge" between Baba Ramdev and the more credible civil society leader, Anna Hazare, to whom the government had earlier surrendered over the Lokpal Bill. This has boomeranged, as witnessed in graphic detail. Now Mr Hazare has announced that he would again go on an indefinite fast on August 16 if the Lokpal Bill were not passed by then.
Fourthly, when driven to a tight corner, the Congress did what it does whenever in trouble. It converted the corruption issue into a no-holds-barred verbal war with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the head of the Sangh Parivar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh, is in the lead in the vituperative campaign. There never was any doubt about the RSS' total support to Baba Ramdev. That can surely be used to discredit him. But can that lend legitimacy to the scourge of corruption and black money? Meanwhile, Mr Hazare has protested strongly against the Congress' attempt to tar him, too, with the RSS brush.
Fifthly, finally and most importantly the repeated swing from one folly to another in recent days has brought out in bold relief a debilitating disease that has been afflicting the core of the ruling coalition for some years: the astonishing lack of synergy between the Congress Party and its own government. The messy drama had begun with four ministers, headed by the most senior of them — Pranab Mukherjee — going to Indira Gandhi International Airport to pay court to the Baba, moved to cordial conversations between his aides and ministers over coffee in a five-star hotel, and ended with the brutal midnight swoop at Ramlila Grounds.
At every stage of the melancholy sequence, there was a chorus by several Congress leaders to the effect that the party "had nothing to do with this. It is a matter for the government". Mr Digvijay Singh called on Mr Mukherjee to "protest" against the ministerial team going to the airport to receive the Baba. To which the finance minister's reported reply was that he had to go because the Prime Minister wanted him to explain to the yoga guru what the government was doing about black money!
According to published reports, denied by no one, at a meeting at her residence at which the Prime Minister was not present, Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed her displeasure over the whole affair. In any case, she hasn't said a word in defence of governmental actions. This is not an aberration but part of a well-established pattern which brings me to my main point.
It is that the present ruling dispensation inaugurated in 2004, when Mrs Gandhi wisely decided not to accept the office of Prime Minister and assign it to Dr Manmohan Singh, seemed at that time both attractive and promising. The general expectation was that while ultimate power would surely reside at 10 Janpath, not at 7 Race Course Road, she would concentrate on building up the party and Dr Singh would be left free to lead the government, as every Prime Minister must.
Sadly, these expectations have been belied. The Congress president and the Prime Minister do have high mutual regard. But that's about all. At no time has Mrs Gandhi done anything to discipline those in the party and even within the higher echelons of the Cabinet that have tried, with distressing frequency, to undermine the Prime Minister's authority. For his part, Dr Singh has asserted himself only once — over the Indo-US nuclear deal — to great effect. Why hasn't he done so ever again or exercised the option to quit remains a mystery.
No wonder a stage has been reached when a respected commentator has described the ruling trinity as "the Queen Mother, her dewan and the little prince". In the latest bout of verbal warfare, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, called the government a "headless chicken", adding: "The Prime Minister is only a chief executive officer; the owner of the company is someone else".
Quite clearly, the diarchy established seven years ago has outlived its utility. Unless it is either mended or ended immediately, it would outlive its futility, too.





With news about yet another possible scandal, this time dealing with oil leases, buffeting the United Progressive Alliance-2 government, it may be difficult for the country's policymakers to focus on the upcoming US-India strategic dialogue scheduled for late next month. Indeed if the current disarray persists, the meeting scheduled in Washington, D.C. may lead, at best, to the usual recitation of a litany of mutual concerns. At worst, the Indian side may not even be able to cobble together such a ritualistic incantation.
Similarly, the Obama administration frantically dealing with Republican intransigence on the healthcare legislation, and more importantly on the question of the budget ceiling, may also have had little time to fashion a meaningful agenda for the dialogue. That said, quite apart from its legion of domestic woes, given the responses that it has elicited from India in the recent past on various fronts, their inattention might be forgiven.
Aside from the exigencies that the relationship currently confronts, the dialogue may well be facing some structural problems that need to be forthrightly addressed. Bluntly stated, some key policymakers in the United States are beginning to express private doubts about whether or not India really wants to pursue a viable strategic partnership. These doubts have arisen because of a number of recent developments in both multilateral and bilateral contexts.
Many observers of the relationship are probably well aware of these infelicitous events and turning points. However, for the benefit of others it may be useful to highlight some of them. At least three of them should be underscored. The first, of course, was the decision of Parliament to pass such draconian nuclear liability legislation that it all but deterred most American firms from wanting to invest in the Indian civilian nuclear energy industry. Most, though not all, Indian analysts have been ready to dismiss the concerns of American firms and have suggested that similar, if not better technological investments can be obtained from other nations, notably France.
However, this analysis sorely misses the point. The George W. Bush and the Obama administrations both expended significant political capital to cajole and prod a reluctant Congress to pass the enabling legislation to consummate the civilian nuclear energy agreement. They also persuaded key recalcitrant members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow the deal to proceed apace.
Having spent so much political and diplomatic capital it was entirely reasonable for the United States to expect that its companies might have a fair chance of competing in the Indian market. The legislation, in its present form, all but ensures that they will not be entering the fray anytime soon. At a time when the US economy still remains in the doldrums it is hardly unreasonable for American legislators to have expected a more welcoming attitude from India. Sadly, few influential individuals in the Indian political arena are either cognisant of their frustration, or, worse still, even care about these bruised sentiments.
This lack of reciprocity was bad enough. However, India's decision to abstain at the United Nations Security Council on the vote authorising the use of force against Libya caused further heartburn. In fact, it again resurrected memories of a time when India could be fairly well counted upon to vote against the United States. Such votes, mostly cast during the Cold War years, had the effect of dramatically alienating US legislators. For good or ill, in that era, the resultant diplomatic damage mattered little to India because the bilateral relationship had so little of substance. Today, however, India's policymakers cannot afford to be so cavalier about the consequences. When votes concerning India crop up in the House and the Senate they should not expect much sympathy, let alone support.
Finally, there is the still simmering resentment over India's decision to overlook the two American contenders for the Medium Multiple Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). It is entirely possible, and indeed quite likely, that the decision was made purely on technical grounds. To that extent, the expectations of the process that the defence ministry had outlined were honoured. However, in a country where political considerations all too frequently influence critical public policy choices the abrupt decision to sedulously adhere to technical criteria does appear a bit odd. Technical specifications alone, for once, should not have been the critical basis for selecting this aircraft. Instead a decision in favour of the American aerospace firms could have served as a useful strategic signal to the United States that India was willing to put the relationship on a wholly new level.
Indian commentators and policymakers have been quick to assert that the US has been the beneficiary of other significant defence contracts. That argument, however, misses the point. The symbolic significance of this potential contract was not lost on anyone. It was a deal of dramatic proportions and one that will have considerable ramifications for the future of India's defence procurement policies.
Against this backdrop of a series of disappointments Indian policymakers continue to express frustration with the United States on a range of issues extending from greater access to H-1B visas to a lack of American pressure on Pakistan to rein in its continuing support for terror in Kashmir and elsewhere. These complaints, many of which are quite legitimate, are unlikely to gain a sympathetic hearing in Washington, D.C. anytime soon. The obvious lack of reciprocity that India has demonstrated in the recent past has made it difficult even for those who are sympathetically inclined to make a case on its behalf. Obviously, those who have long harboured an animus towards the country have simply found more reasons to bolster their existing prejudices.
The domestic distractions that policymakers from both countries face at home are real and compelling. However, unless India's delegates to the next round of the strategic dialogue can proffer some imaginative and concrete suggestions for placing this partnership on a more secure footing the reasons for continuing the partnership may prove to be mostly chimerical.

Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington









Pilgrimage to the holy Amarnath cave in the Himalayas has a long history, one that could be called a model of tolerance and coexistence among the people of various faiths. Three years ago, the issue of pilgrimage to the holy cave was politicized by stakeholders taking recourse to very small and not too serious matters connected with the pilgrimage. The miscreants wanted to create a wedge between two communities by inducing them to adopt confrontational stances. However, fortunately, this did not happen, and after some intervention by saner elements in civil society and the government, the irritants were removed and normal course of pilgrimage was restored. An understanding of sorts was arrived at and stakeholders were happy that an atmosphere of peace and amity was restored. But perhaps this attitude of understanding and mutual respect did not suit the elements with vested interest and each year on the occasion of the beginning of the pilgrimage, some issues are stoked and over-exaggerated just to recreate the atmosphere of controversies and misunderstandings. This time, the controversy was raised about the duration of the pilgrimage and when should it commence. The government and the Shrine Board looked at the entire issue from security point of view and also the feasibility of the track leading to the holy cave, while the organizers of the pilgrimage (NIYAS) wanted that the pilgrimage begins on a date of their choosing and much in advance of the Shravana Purnima, the day on which the lingam in the cave comes of full size and the pilgrims want a darshan of the same. It appeared that postures were getting hardened on either side and the fear was of repetition of earlier stalemate.
But the good news has come in just when we were waiting in wings to advise both sides not to lose their cool. The state government on Monday, in its last-ditch effort, finally succeeded in settling the controversy over the duration of the annual Amarnath yatra. Three senior functionaries of the government flew into Jammu to facilitate talks between the Shrine Board and the contesting groups. During their meeting with the representatives of Baba Amarnath Yatri Niyas (BAYN)--- - an amalgam of several political, religious, social and trade organizations---the government functionaries successfully brought a consensus over the start of annual Amarnath pilgrimage. Talking to the media persons soon after the meeting, the Niyas president Surinder Mohan Aggarwal claimed, "We have reached an agreement with the government that two members of the NIYAS and as many from the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) will perform pratham (first) darshan pooja (pay obeisance) at cave shrine on Jyeshta Purnima that falls on June 15. We were in favour of start of Yatra from Jyeshta Purnima so that pratham darshan are performed. The government agreed to perform pooja on June 15, marking the start of the Yatra." As per the agreement, also approved by the Governor in his capacity as the Chairman of Shrine Board, two members of the NIYAS and as many from the Board would pay symbolic obeisance at cave shrine on June 15, marking the start of pilgrimage.
The news of an agreement on the controversy about the commencement and duration of the pilgrimage has come at proper time to the relief of everybody concerned. This shows that if handled properly and justifiably any ticklish issue can be resolved without causing irritation. It is also a matter of relief to know that the negotiating teams agreed to decide the date of commencement and duration of next year's pilgrimage also so that nothing is left to speculation.
Though an amicable resolution of the matter has been arrived at through the intervention of the government but the fact remains that in a secular democracy, governments normally avoid interfering in religious matters and their dispensation is left to the discretion of accredited religious leaders only. We hope that in future, the Shrine Board will exercise its powers and skills judiciously to resolve any issue relating to the Amarnath Pilgrimage or any other religious function. That is usually safe for the government. We do understand the inevitability of the state government intervening in the issue owing to the awkward history of the Amarnath yatra during past three summers and the disturbed conditions of the State. But as soon as normalcy returns to the valley, we hope the government will have no need to supervene in controversies of religious nature.







Sending New Delhi-based writer and so-called rights activist, Gautam Navlakha, back to New Delhi from Srinagar airport under the orders of the State government is fully justified. Pre-empting any action that might lead to disruption of peace in the valley is the first and foremost duty of the government. The Chief Minister is right in saying that he has much wider responsibility to discharge and he cannot be answerable to every so-called human rights activist. Sending Gautam Navlakha back from the Srinagar airport was decided on the basis of input from concerned sources at the Home Ministry and state's own findings. We have many writers and commentators these days claiming expertise on Kashmir and under the cover of human rights activists they have been supporting the cause of separatists. The state cannot tolerate people coming from outside and then stoking flames of unrest. They cannot be allowed to fabricate stories and thus vitiate the atmosphere in the state created with great effort and fortitude. It is the role of these pretentious human rights activists that has brought lot of misery to the state and suffering to her people. For three consecutive summers, the time when tourism is at its prime, the valley has seen turmoil and unrest resulting in huge economic losses to the state besides impoverishment of her people. This year all precautions are taken not to allow repetition of the practice of last three years. As such writers like Gautam who have taken a fancy of projecting the subversive acts of militants and separatists as violation of their human rights should have no business to be in the valley and propagate their canard.







Hope has kindled for the survival of the nearly extinct Kashmir antelope 'Hangul'. The preliminary findings of the census of Hangul conducted in Kashmir in March 2011 have shown an increase in their numbers. The state Forest Minister Mian Altaf Ahmad while reviewing the conservation of Hangul in Srinagar recently revealed that census report of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) has put the number of Hanguls at 218 in Dachigam and adjoining areas.

The Department of Wild Life Protection of Jammu and Kashmir Government in collaboration with the WII has been regularly monitoring the population of Hangul in the Dachigam National Park and the adjoining areas since 2004. The last census in 2009 had put their number at 175 with an increase in male, female and fawn ratio. The wildlife authorities had that time said that it boded well for a sustained population growth of Hangul and had described it as a sign of hope.

Critically endangered Hangul, a sub-species of red deer, is found only in Kashmir. Kashmir stag is distinct with its male species bestowed with magnificent antlers with 11 to 16 points and long hair on their necks while their female counterparts have none of these features. Nevertheless, both change their brownish fur with seasons and also with age. In the beginning of the 20th century the red deer existed in thousands. They lived in groups of 2 to 18 in dense riverine forests, high valleys, and mountains of Kashmir valley. Unfortunately, their habitats were destroyed, their pastures over-grazed by domestic livestock, and became victims of poaching.
Hangul is confined today to Dachigam National Park at elevations of 3,035 meters on the outskirts of state's summer capital Srinagar. According to an aged and former wildlife official Mohammad Qasim Wani, at the time of Independence there were around 3,000 Hangul spread over various parts of the valley. He recalled that he had seen quite big herds of Hangul in Kulgam and Pahalgam in South Kashmir and Uri, Lolab, Kupwara, Gurez, Teetwal, and other places in western and northern parts of the valley.
Similarly, older people living around Dachigam National Park recall that the area had plenty of Hangul who would sneak into their fields to eat crops. Wildlife officials confirm that the National Park had as many as 800 Hangul at one time. Mohammad Qasim Wani laments that Hangul became victim of poachers' greed and the indiscriminate killings for sport that wiped out the Kashmir stag from most of the areas in the valley and taking it to the verge of extinction. Moreover, human encroachments into forests have considerably increased since 1947 resulting in fragmentation of the habitat of Hangul.
The first ever census of the Hanguls by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources was held about four decades back in early 1970s which sounded alarm bells as their numbers were found to be mere 170. The State Government initiated several measures to save the Hangul from extinction. These included the enactment of Wildlife Act and the setting up of a full-fledged wildlife department. These and other steps had started giving great results and the Hangul population increased to over 340 by 1980.
But unfortunately, the outbreak of militancy over two decades back set the clock back, while the Wildlife Department staff feared to venture out into the Hangul habitat some nomads reportedly took undue advantage of the situation and encroached with their sheep into the designated grazing grounds of Hangul. The Wildlife Institute of India shockingly found a steep drop in their number ranging somewhere between 117 and 160 making the Kashmir stag critically endangered. However, with situation on the ground improving in recent years, the conditions for Hangul's survival are changing for the better.
The three-member team of the Wildlife Institute of India during the recent census spotted Hangul outside the Dachigam National Park in nearby Khanmoh, Khrew, and Brain. The Institute has suggested that besides these areas adjoining Chasmashahi, Nishat and Wangat should also be incorporated in the conservation area of the endangered deer species. Encouraged by the latest census findings, the Department of Wildlife Protection jointly with the Wildlife Trust of India, New Delhi has initiated the survey of Hangul all over Kashmir valley to know the actual position regarding the distribution of Hangul population in natural habitat. Meanwhile, an ambitious 'Save Hangul' project is being implemented which includes survey of the Hangul's natural habitat along with that of the leopard and black bear. The five-year project will make use of the latest wild animal photograph technology, including the use of satellite imageries and geographical information systems.
The other features of the Rs. 1.67 crore project includes artificial breeding of the highly endangered deer for which a Conservation Breeding Centre is being set up with necessary infrastructure on about five acres area at Shikargagh in Tral with monetary assistance from the Central Zoo Authority. Construction of another such breeding centre is in progress at Darwudri-Mamar. According to the Chief Wildlife Warden of Jammu & Kashmir, A K Srivastava on its completion around ten male and female Hanguls in the ratio 3:7 would be put up in the centre for breeding. Once the fawn grow, they would be installed with radio collars and released into the wild to monitor their movements. Experts say the centre would also help in building a genetic stock of Hangul in case the species gets extinct due to some natural calamity or any other reason. The programme is likely to be expanded further depending upon its success.
It is also proposed under the project to upgrade the natural domain of Hangul through reforestation and also initiate measures to conserve soil and improve water management and develop pastures. Anti-poaching measures would be strengthened too and encroachment into Hangul pastures prevented. But experts say much will depend upon the participation of local community in the conservation efforts. Without people's involvement and political will of the Government, Hangul's future would remain in doldrums. There is already awareness about it in certain sections of local community and that has acted as a silver lining. This needs to be broad based and strengthened to conserve Hangul in its last bastion, who is a glorious constituent of Kashmir's natural heritage. (PIB Features)







The agreement between the West Bengal government and the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) may prove to be a challenge. Though Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has kept her promise to solve the problem within three months of coming to power, the road to Darjeeling indeed seems to be uphill as parting with the land in the plains could trigger a political backlash and fresh unrest.
A triumphant Chief Minister, waving an "agreement copy" in front of mediapersons in Kolkata, declared: "The Darjeeling impasse stands resolved. We have already signed a deal at the Secretary level with the GJM. The final agreement will be inked in a political level tripartite talk between the Centre, state and the GJM, preferably in Darjeeling. This has been communicated to the Union Home Minister."
It is a historic day, said a euphoric Banerjee, who plans to go to Darjeeling and make an announcement after the tripartite talks. Financial packages will be given to the hills. "Should I go to a wedding empty-handed? I have to take a gift," she quipped.
The agreement, clinched within just 17 days of Banerjee assuming office as the chief minister, saw both the state government and the GJM conceding ground to arrive at an amicable solution, including formation of a new body through elections to replace the existing Darjeeling Gorkha Autonomous Hill Council (DGAHC) and the possibility of expansion of territorial jurisdiction.
GJM has agreed to maintain peace and normality in the Hills and its general secretary Roshan Giri, a signatory to the minutes, said: "We are happy."
Political observers say the "turning point was the government's decision to form a joint committee to recommend if the Gorkha-dominated areas of the Dooars, Terai and Siliguri could be included in the new set-up. "That was our biggest demand which had repeatedly been turned down by the previous government," said Morcha spokesperson Harka Bahadur Chhetri. "There is a huge difference between the previous government and this government. Miss Mamata Banerjee has shown courage by agreeing to set up a committee on territory and a beginning has been made."
The GJM during the Left Front regime had opposed the formation of the new body through elections while the state government had been categorically against any expansion of the territory beyond the jurisdiction of the present DGAHC. However, the Trinamool Congress government was able to convince GJM this time that the new body should be formed through elections.
A Bill would be shortly introduced in the Legislative Assembly paving the way for the formation of the new body, which will have administrative, executive and financial powers over the subjects that would be transferred to them enabling it to function in an autonomous manner.
Although the legislative powers cannot be transferred to the new body, it will have powers to frame rules and regulations under state Acts.
This time both sides displayed flexibility. The Morcha gave up its insistence on the members of the administrative set-up being nominated and agreed to elections. It did not bring up the issue of a separate state or tag the word "interim" to the new set-up.
On the other hand, the state government reciprocated by promising to absorb casual workers of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC), under administrator rule as polls have not been held since 1999. It was agreed today to include the three hill MLAs in the DGHC board till the new body is formed.
The state government appears to have somewhat conceded the demand of the GJM for inclusion of Gorkha-majority areas in Siliguri, Terai and the Dooars by agreeing to set up a high-powered committee comprising GJM members, the district magistrates of Darjeeling and Jalpaiguri, a home department official and director of census to look into GJM's demand for new areas.
The chairman of the committee would be appointed by the state and the administrator of the DGAHC would be the convener of the committee which will submit its report within six months.
While the Government has remained steadfast in the three hill subdivisions – Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong — to be included in the new administrative set up, the GJM has demanded the inclusion of 230 "Gorkha dominated" mouzas of Dooars in the Jalapiguri district and 195 mouzas of Siliguri (the plain sub-division of Darjeeling district) and Terai region.
While the Morcha wants that the Gorkhadominated areas in the plains to form part of the new set up, a sizeable chunk of the tribals, who form majority in the Dooars and the Terai, is opposed to the idea.
The committee will look into the question of "identification of additional areas in Siliguri, Terai and the Dooars that may be transferred to the new body, having regard to their compactness, contiguity, homogeneity, ground level situation and other relevant factors." However, the process of election to the new body will continue simultaneously with the above exercise though the empowering statute will have the provision of inclusion of the new areas.
The state government has also agreed to hand over the Tauzi department (department which is in charge of the land leased out by the State Government including Tea Estate land) to the new administrative set up. In the meantime, a board of administrators comprising the three GJM MLAs, DM, Darjeeling and DGAHC administrator will be empowered to run development work in Hills.
"The TMC- Congress led State Government has shown immense political will to resolve the issue and to establish peace and development. They have conceded to most of our demands. We will extend all our cooperation to the Government" remarked Raju Pradhan, GJM Assistant Secretary. Even GJM supremo Bimal Gurung has lauded the outcome of the bipartite talks.
However, some political parties have dubbed the "understanding" between the state government and the GJM as sham and a betrayal. So while the GJM is trying to arouse public sentiment in favour of the agreement that it has reached, these political parties feel that this is just a lull before the storm.
Bharati Tamang, who is now the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Gorkha League (ABGL) after the murder of her husband Madan Tamang in May last year, said her party would never compromise on its demand for Gorkhaland. "The people of Darjeeling cannot live a life full of political uncertainties," she said.
Tamang, who was killed in full public view, allegedly by GJM supporters, was a moderate leader of the Gorkhaland movement and was opposed to all excesses. Since the late 1980s, had became a strong critic of Gorkha National Liberation Front chief Subhas Ghisingh though he had started out as an ally.
The GNLF has accused the GJM of hoodwinking the people of Darjeeling on the issue of Gorkhaland. "That was their only slogan for the election. People trusted them and voted the GJM only because they thought that the party would help carve out Gorkhaland for them," said a senior GNLF leader.
The Front had negotiated the Darjeeling accord in the 80s for formation of the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council (DGHC) — an arrangement to run the Hills on its own, though under the umbrella of the state government.
"The truce clearly proves that there is no other solution to the problem than what we had worked out in the 80s. We are yet to see the new agreement between the GJM and the state government. Once we do so, we will be in a better position to condemn the stand of the GJM," said GNLF's Palden Dorjee Lama.
The GNLF had entered into a tripartite agreement with the state government and the Centre on December 6, 2005. "Unfortunately, the erstwhile Left Front state government did not honour that pact. We are sure that the present agreement is based on the pact that we had drawn up," Dorjee said.
The Communist Party of Revolutionary Marxists (CPRM), the second largest party in the Darjeeling hills, also sounded upset and said the mandate has been misused by the GJM in signing an agreement that was not borne out by the Constitution. "The people of Darjeeling should now rise and demand Gorkhaland instead of meekly accepting what the GJM doles out for them," said Tara Rai, CPRM general secretary. - PTI Feature






Who is responsible for the present Ramdev crisis, which the Government finds itself unable to extricate? Is it the miscalculations of the yoga guru, or the misplaced confidence of the Government in its ability to deal with him, or the support of the BJP and RSS to the cause or the jealousy of the Civil Society group led by Anna Hazare? Apparently there is all round bungling from all sides leading to this embarrassing situation, which is a textbook case how blunders could be made.
Ironically, the Ramdev movement on black money has been forgotten and the focus now is to fix the Government on the midnight drama of dispersing the crowds from the Ramlila maidan. The opposition parties including the BJP and the Left are now attacking the government for the way Ramdev was removed rather than the real issue of black money. It is also turning political with the Congress versus the rest.
For instance, the government has come out in a very poor light. There seems to be a kneejerk reaction. First it built up Ramdev to divide the Anna Hazare camp to kill the Lok Pal bill. Prime Minister sent four top ministers to the airport in an unprecedented manner to negotiate with him. When that backfired, it sent the police to disperse the crowds at the Ram Lila maidan at midnight invoking criticism from all round including the Congress party. The ministers had not been transparent about their negotiations and tried to split the civil society and the Ramdev camp. Having done all these, when the whole thing collapsed, now the Government is going into the background of the Rs 1100 crore Ramdev Empire and the income tax authorities and Health ministry are digging into his affairs. Above all, the government action has given a new lease of life to the opposition which has become united in attacking the Congress party and the government.
As for Ramdev, he had miscalculated his strength and thought that the government would not touch him because of his popularity and his ability to mobilise crowds. After the negotiations with the four ministers at the airport he was walking in the clouds. But this changed in a few hours as his credentials had taken a beating by the way he disappeared from the Ramlila maidan wearing a woman's clothes. Had he remained and got arrested his stature would have gone up. His claim that he was going to be murdered does not stand to reason. He had not been transparent about his negotiations with the Government and tried to hood wink his negotiators with the result he got exposed. Above all he was not focused on his fast on one issue - that of black money and had given too many demands. He has been driven to a corner with the U.P, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi out of bounds for his yoga camps after the Ramlila fiasco. With more and more revelations about his empire, he has lost the halo he had earlier.
The Congress has been clever in dealing with the issue and distanced itself initially from the government's action. The Congress in fact tried to occupy the opposition space by criticizing the government's moves. AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh was the one-man army who spoke against Ramdev and got the party to endorse his line. The party had no answer why the Government was dealing with the yoga guru if he was not a desirable person. It is doubtful whether its strategy to convert the whole thing into a political fight will work now.
The BJP and the Sangh parivar tried to use the yoga guru to fight the Government. The RSS was upset that the Government was talking about the Hindu terror and propped up Ramdev to fight black money. It was the RSS which mobilised the crowds in Ramlila maidan and supported the movement in a big way. However, instead of remaining in the background suddenly the presence of Sadhavi Ritambara and others on the dais has exposed the yoga guru with the result there was some adverse publicity. The BJP should have taken up the issue at a political level instead of hiding behind the yoga guru.
The civil society led by Anna Hazare was upbeat after it got the joint committee to draft the Lokpal bill and was riding high. Ramdev was annoyed with the civil society for hijacking what he felt was his issue. The two did not work together as there was jealousy. Anna Hazare and social activists like Medha Patkar were critical about the money spent on the Ramlila event. There was no unity between Ramdev and Anna camp in fighting the black money issue.
Players like Ramdev, Anna Hazare, BJP and RSS can afford to commit mistakes but can the government do so? The UPA 2 has moved from one crisis to another these past few months. First it was Commonwealth Games, Adarsh society scam, 2 G spectrum allocation, and resignation of A. Raja, arrest of Kanimozhi, then the Anna Hazare movement and now the Ramdev fiasco. The unfortunate thing is that the Government has only been reacting and not acting. The Government has its responsibilities, which have to be carried out to the satisfaction of the people who have elected this Government. That is where there is a problem as there is a governance deficit and there is also trust deficit. This needs to be bridged urgently as the impression that the government is unable to handle things is gaining ground in the public. The Government has to bridge the communication gap urgently if it has to survive the rest of the term. It should show some action and not merely react to situation. (IPA)










IN January the Supreme Court asked the government what action it had taken against tax evaders who had parked their illegal wealth in foreign banks. The question is still valid and the government fumbles for an answer. On Monday, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee expressed helplessness in dealing with tax havens (Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg, Belgium, Singapore and Hong Kong). Banks there refuse access to details about their clients. They have tight bank secrecy laws. The world's rich park their ill-gotten wealth in such protected banks as their own countries lose tax revenue. A study for British charity Oxfam says the developing countries lose $124 billion in taxes a year, which is more than $103 billion, the foreign aid they get.


At a seminar of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) in Delhi on Monday, Pranab Mukherjee asked the world community to pressure tax havens to share past banking information. The OECD has blacklisted such countries, barring Switzerland, for sanctions. After 9/11 the bankers softened but not much. The 2008 global financial crisis forced many cash-strapped governments to get tough with the tax havens. The G-20 meeting in 2009 in London called for their cooperation to clean up the global financial system and check offshore tax evasion. But the results have been below expectations. The danger is money generated through arms sale or drug trafficking could be used to fund terror attacks.


The Indian government has been less than earnest in pursuing the issue, the court and public pressure notwithstanding. While the US and some European countries have extracted concessions by threatening sanctions, Indian leaders are content making platitudinous calls for global pressure. The government still has no clear strategy to stop illegal outflows and nail the rich here with unaccounted holdings abroad. Political will for determined action is missing. There may be hurdles in retrieving money stashed abroad, but what prevents the government from coming down really hard on local criminals — powerful individuals and firms — before they launder money?








IT is no surprise that friends of the Left want the CPI and the CPM to merge, as indicated by CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury in Hyderabad this week. While the CPM has just lost power in its bastions in West Bengal and Kerala, the CPI has for long been a junior partner in the Left Front. The combined strength of the Left Front in the Lok Sabha came down dramatically in the last general election from 60 to 25. It would require a tremendous capacity at self-delusion to deny that the Left is facing a major existential crisis in the country. It is not unnatural, therefore, for the 'friends' of the Left to wish for a merger of the two major parties so that a comprehensive Left unity is achieved and resources are combined to handle the crisis. While leaders of the CPI have been vocal about the unity of the two parties for some time, the CPM for the first time appears receptive to the idea.


But while the two Left parties are on the same page on most of the national issues, there are differences too that may come in the way of the merger. CPM leaders have been contemptuous of the CPI's alleged love affair with the Congress. Indeed, the CPI for some time was described as the 'Communist Party of Indira'. While the CPI retains a theoretical approach to class struggle, the CPM , particularly in West Bengal, has not hesitated in employing violence to counter opposition. The CPM-led government in West Bengal had also merrily followed the BJP and RSS line on infiltration on the India-Bangladesh border and steamrolled opposition within the Left Front.


The relevance of the Left cannot be understated in a country in which over one quarter of the population lives below subsistence level while two quarters are arguably poverty-stricken. But the Left does require to re-invent and modernise itself and come out of dogmatic positions on liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation. The merger could possibly help the two parties emerge from the shadow and shackles of the past.











After Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Bahrain, it is the turn of Syria now. Anti-government protests in Syria are becoming more widespread with every passing day. The Syrian army has taken control of Jisr Al-Shughour, the town which has been in the news for intense protests for a long time against the Bashar Al-Assad government. The region where the town is located has been known for rebellion against the rule of the Alawite minority. Bashar's father, Hafiz Al-Assad, also had to use force to quell protests against his rule in 1980. Many people lost their lives then. In the current agitation, over 1200 protesters have been done to death by the armed forces of the regime. Yet the unrest is not under control.


The Syrian regime has been known for its repressive policies. It has done little to end corruption, which is rampant at every level in the government. There is an acute job shortage and prices are skyrocketing. People have been leading a miserable life in this West Asian country. The pro-democracy protests in other countries in the region provided them an opportunity to raise their voice against the incompetent and repressive regime. The government was forced to end the emergency, which it had imposed a long time back to punish people on any pretext. But it has taken no serious step to go into the grievances of the protesters.


Thousands of people have crossed over the borders to find refuge in the neighbouring countries. The indiscriminate use of force may compel more people to leave their homes. But this will not end the trouble in Syria. The unrest has acquired a sectarian complexion. The Sunnis, who have never been comfortable with the rule of Damascus, have been at the forefront of the protests because the ruling family belongs to the Alawite Shia sect. The rebellion is unlikely to come to an end so long as there is no regime change. President Bashar Al-Assad should know this and start preparing for introducing democracy in Syria. Otherwise the continuing protests will lead to the country getting ruined.









MF Husain, a highly respected and loved Indian, died in enforced exile in London last week, mourned by millions, a cruel victim of crude, "cultural-nationalist" blackmail. There were many protests. But who in "civil society" undertook a "fast unto death" or otherwise against this symbolic murder by some of these self-same elements of "civil society" of the Idea of India, which, of course, lives on?


Consider more recent times. The DMK was quick off the block to call an executive meeting and let it be known that withdrawal of its ministers from the Union Cabinet might follow as Kanimozhi had been denied bail in the 2G spectrum. No anxious call from Delhi ensued. The bluff was called. There is perhaps a lesson here.


Meanwhile, the Ramdev circus took a not unexpected turn with the Baba's most zealous followers twisting in the wind from the sixth day of the "indefinite fast" to get him off the hook. The issue here is not a brave fight against black money. His demands include a mixed bag of the frivolous and irrelevant. He seeks kudos in the furtherance of a political agenda with gleeful support from the Sangh Parivar. He has vouchsafed a declaration of his Trust assets but not of his commercial companies, extensive lands and a private jet in which he travels. What does he have to hide?


Ramdev sought police permission for a yoga camp for 5000 persons at Delhi's Ramlila Grounds but did not spend a minute in yoga instruction. The question asked of the government is that, knowing much of this, why did it depute four ministers and the Cabinet Secretary to Delhi airport to negotiate with him?


The government admittedly acted ham-handedly and failed to explain its conduct. What has been informally suggested is that after the Anna Hazare ruckus, the object was to inform the Baba of the steps taken and contemplated to deal with black money and thereby dissuade him from further agitating the matter by going on a fast. Over the next two days, Ramdev was largely persuaded and said he would only undertake a token 36-hour fast and then ask his people to disperse. The matter was reduced to writing by the Baba's aide but on this being made known, he resiled from the agreement and accused the government of a conspiracy by cheats and liars. The Baba and his audience at the Ramlila Grounds became abusive and hysterical with the media projecting a live national Press conference to air all manner of comments from the crowd and from distant locations cross-country.


Nevertheless, talks with the government continued late into the night to no avail. Ramdev appeared adamant on fasting along with many of his followers. With tensions mounting and many more thousands likely to join the gathering the following day, the authorities decided to revoke the permission granted for a yoga camp as this had now clearly become a pumped up political rally with people like Sadhvi Rithambara on the dais. The police moved in after midnight. Ramdev jumped off the dais into the crowd, sought refuge among women acolytes, dressed as one of them and was finally caught while fleeing when his disguise gave way. The drama ended not with a bang but a whimper. Some, including police personnel, were hurt.


References to Jallianwala Bagh, "a second freedom struggle" and the Emergency are laughable. Critics bemoan the fact that a "peaceful, sleeping crowd" was attacked and plead the fundamental right to freedom of assembly, citing Article 19(b) of the Constitution. Would they but read Article 19(2) they would find the answer. The government acted pre-emptively to prevent a possibly explosive situation developing on the morrow with sundry political elements eager to fish in troubled waters outside and beyond the fiction of a "yoga camp". Had anything gone wrong, these same critics would have come down heavily on the government for not taking timely, anticipatory action. Heads I win. Tails you lose!


The Baba's response from Haridwar: "I shall raise a self-defence force of 11,000 youth".


Now to Anna Hazare, a simple man increasingly in danger of going overboard. His definition of "civil society" is self-centred. Recourse to an "indefinite fast", which he has again proclaimed from August 16 if the Lokpal Bill is not enacted by then, is emotional blackmail. Means are as important as ends. Subverting parliamentary democracy and the basic structure of the Constitution is to invite or advocate fascism.


True, successive governments have been lax in dealing with corruption and have turned a blind eye to it. The UPA too has much to answer for. Yet action is gradually being taken under public pressure. Reform and legislation take time and political consensus building. The "Jan Lokpal" is no magic wand and it would be idle to imagine otherwise. Many inter-locking measures and actions will be required to deal with the problem as it exists and in its new manifestations. A monolithic super-organ accountable to none would be dangerous.


The issue of whether the Prime Minister, the higher judiciary and MPs should be brought under the jurisdiction of the Lokpal can be debated. There is a case for including the Prime Minister, with suitable safeguards, but this need be no stumbling block. Bringing the apex court under the jurisdiction of another body is a contradiction in terms, and MPs may best be left to be dealt with by Parliament and the courts. None of these issues constitutes a breaking point.


The Hazare group had best get on with the drafting. Parliament will, of course, have the last say. All talk of fasts must end. The country can do without coercive politics and competitive humbug.









Most institutions are being increasingly afflicted by what, for want of a better term, I can only call the succession syndrome. There was a time, when all CEOs, both incoming and outgoing, worked on the assumption that each CEO tried to do his best by his institution, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. But the failures were never due to a lack of good intentions. As a result all CEOs were very firm in quashing any criticism that was offered either about their predecessors or about their successors


Now, barring a few exceptions, all new CEOs spend most of their time finding fault with their immediate predecessors and criticizing them at every opportunity. A few, for good measure, criticize all their predecessors! Outgoing CEOs, in turn, keep a careful watch on their successor and gleefully pick holes in everything and anything that he is trying to do. They talk about it openly to anyone who is willing to listen. Both patterns of behaviour are born from a strong sense of insecurity. The new CEO feels that by criticizing his predecessor and belittling his achievements he is proving his own superiority. While the outgoing CEO feels that by running his successor down he is ensuring that his achievements are not forgotten. Both individuals forget that the outgoing CEO is now history, nothing that is said can add to what he did for the institution and no amount of criticism can detract from his achievements. What is also forgotten is that this constant carping is counterproductive: all that it achieves is to lower both the individuals in the esteem of their listeners.


Another aspect of the succession syndrome is the compulsive need that the new CEO feels to change everything that his predecessor had done as quickly as possible. There is always need for change. In fact a new CEO is brought in with the hope that he will bring in these changes. But change, merely for the sake of change, can only be disastrous for the institution. The new CEO does not give himself time to understand the system he has inherited. He sweeps out all that is old, including the tried and tested. Some of these changes work but most of the time the devastation caused is similar to that caused by a rampaging bull in a china shop – utter confusion, the destruction of valued and valueable traditions and the alienation of the staff. The outgoing CEO, though seething inwardly with envy, studiously ignores the changes that have been successfully implemented. Instead he focuses on the ones that have gone wrong and gloats openly over the damage they have wrought.


Much is being done today by way of workshops and seminars and self renewal programmes, which all institutions subscribe to whole heartedly. I wish someone would devise a programme to build up awareness about the pitfalls of the succession syndrome. I know that I would be one of the first to enroll for such a programme!









IN 2006, the International Network for Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), an NGO with presence in Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania, Africa and the Middle East called upon countries to support the movement.


It began by asking countries to observe the World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on 15th June every year. Since then WEAAD has been embraced by NGOs, government agencies and individuals in many countries.


The first step towards tackling the growing menace of abuse, neglect, and abandonment of older people is of course to recognise that it exists, that it happens amongst us and that it is a problem.


But the absence of authentic statistics, limited studies, inadequate documentation besides the lack of conceptual and definitional clarity on abuse and neglect have led to the problem being under-recognised. Besides, the reluctance of witnesses to testify and unclear evidences add to the difficulties in assessing the incidence of elder abuse and neglect.


The 6th INPEA annual meeting in London on June 17th lays emphasis on reviewing the new developments. Education and training of social workers on prevention of elder abuse and the need to have better tools to facilitate detection, intervention and prevention are areas the meeting will focus on.


In many countries substantial progress has been made towards reaching a consensus on definition of elder abuse and neglect. There has also been progress towards identifying new information on risk factors.


Nuclear families and increasing incompatibility between the young and the old have adversely affected the welfare of the elderly. A growing number of older men and women now live on their own. This despite their frailty and age related disabilities making them dependent on their adult children in the absence of adequate social security. The aged are becoming increasingly vulnerable to crime, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.


Clearly, there is an urgent need to educate and train professionals like lawyers, bank employees and those working in insurance and financial institutions. That is because these professionals and the police are in a position to stop abuse before it happens.


Growing evidence


In India, the subject was taboo till recently, possibly in view of the strong tradition of reverence for the elderly. Joint families have lived together for generations and the society has been in a denial mode in so far as ill-treatment of the elderly is concerned. Coming to terms with such abuse within 'respectable' families has been far from easy.

But there is growing evidence of families neglecting the old. Media coverage, research and NGOs , besides crime records and the police, indicate how families are increasingly discriminating against the elderly, neglecting them and often abusing them. There is little doubt that the quality of life of the elderly has suffered in many parts of the country.


The increase in the number of Old Age Homes and a growing demand for institutional care outside the family are also pointers to the problem. Research conducted by this writer indicates that the problem exists across socio-economic groups and cuts across the rural-urban divide. Sample surveys have thrown up the interesting nugget that older women seem to be more vulnerable to neglect and abuse than the men. But in the absence of comprehensive surveys, it is difficult to arrive at definite conclusions.


Isolation, abandonment and social exclusion are some forms of the abuse of the elderly one comes across. Denial of legal, medical and human rights and depriving the elderly of choices and a role in decisions, financial or otherwise, are some other forms of neglect which have surfaced. Robbing the elderly of respect and dignity is also not so uncommon any longer.


Significantly, the elderly find themselves at the receiving end of not just strangers (robbers and murderers)but also of family members, neighbours, friends, public servants, police, domestic helps and service providers.


The elderly are losing control over property forcing them to undergo financial deprivation. Immovable property belonging to the elderly are increasingly being grabbed, making the elderly homeless. There is evidence that some are being left out of family functions and community activities. Many of the old are being abandoned by grown up children and forced to live in institutions. Some live in ashrams or old age homes while some are being forced out to the streets.


Verbal humiliation is on the rise with insulting, rude, insensitive and disrespectful language being used increasingly towards the old. Add to this the emotional and psychological trauma of receiving threats, facing growing fear and insecurity and the stress to which the elderly are being exposed can be appreciated.


Old and ill ?


If you are old and also ill, you may find it worse. Instances of not taking into account older persons' disabilities and frailty, giving insufficient and non-nutritional food, not being responsive to diseases and illnesses of the older person and not assisting in seeking adequate and timely medical care and not providing sufficient care are, unfortunately, no longer rare.


A Report by United Nations shared at the Second World Assembly on Ageing in Madrid in 2002 revealed that 4% in a community based sample claimed to be physically abused and in yet another research, 20% of the older people living in an urban area said they had been neglected in their households.


With rapid increase in the population of older persons in the country, estimated to be about 100 million now, the magnitude of the problem can no longer be ignored.


While it is true that various factors , including health, personality, and availability of resources along with land rights, property and inheritance systems etc determine the extend of discrimination and neglect of the elderly, the fact of the matter is there is drastic need in the country to reduce the 'dependency' of older people on families and communities.


What can be done


It is crucial that we recognise "elder abuse and neglect" as a public health and human rights issue. Our national programs must work towards empowering older people to achieve health, food and financial security. Older people should not be discriminated due to age for entry into investment & entrepreneurial sector and micro finance opportunities must be opened to them. It is also important that they have access to geriatric services in health delivery systems.


Recent announcements of the government of increasing amount and coverage of pensions for people above 60 years of age is a welcome proposal but along with it, it is necessary to raise retirement age and opening re-employment opportunities as well as facilitating mid and late- life education and skill development. This will go a long way to reduce the risks and vulnerabilities of the elderly.


The scope of developing post-retirement residential facilities which provide safety and security with age-sensitivity in environments familiar to older people is an option being adopted in many countries. It is time that we respond seriously to the ill-treatment of older people and free them from abuse, neglect and exploitation.




Dr Singh ( 70) , a retired doctor, has been living with his son and daughter-in-law. But he waits endlessly for his meals and often has to go without food. Because he is an early riser and also goes to bed early, he requires his meals to be served according to his convenience. But that is a far cry.


He also complains about food being served which does not suit his taste or age. Complains make it worse and a lot of unpleasantness follows. Mrs Shanta ( 75) brought up two sons after losing her husband very young. Her younger son was just three months old at the time. She managed to educate them and now lives with the younger son and his family. The elder son did much better than the younger sibling but decided to have no relation with his mother and him. He went away to raise his own family. Years later the elder son donated a community water cooler to the residential area he resided in. Prodded by neighbours and friends he did invite his mother to grace the occasion. But at the function itself, she was ignored, so much so that guests sitting next to her were served refreshments while she was not.


Mrs Kamlesh ( 65) belonged to a rich family, is the mother of five well-settled sons and single-handedly looked after her husband, who remained bed-ridden for 15 long years. But while some of her sons live quite near and are willing to support her financially, they have little or no time for her.


The case studies reflect a growing reality in India. As families and homes shrink and households get smaller and more and more women go out, the old , more often than not, are deemed to be a burden. The coping capacity of the young is being put on test as the elderly complain of loneliness, lack of leisure and emotional support. There is no one to talk to and there is no one willing to listen to them…it is almost as if old age itself is a disease.


(WHO country report)


Physical abuse: Assault, sexual assault, forcible confinement, murder.


Financial abuse: Theft, theft by a person with power of attorney, fraud, extortion, forgery, stopping mail with intent.

Neglect: Criminal negligence causing bodily harm or death.

Mental cruelty: Intimidation, threats, insults.



Plan for your own future when you are well and still independent.


Make a will and review it annually.


Have your pension and other cheques deposited directly into your account.


Stay active in the community as long as possible.


Do not


Revise a will without careful thought and speaking to someone you trust.


Leave jewellery, cash, or other valuable possessions lying around the house. Make it burglar-proof.


Rely solely on family members for your social life and care.


Allow adult children to return to your home (especially if they have drug, alcohol, or psychological problems) without carefully considering the situation.


(The writer is Associate Professor of Sociology, Maitreyi College, Delhi University and has specialised in Gerontology)







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The latest headline inflation data should queer the pitch for the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) as it makes up its mind on the end-quarter monetary policy action this week. The wholesale price index (WPI) has been reported to have risen by 9.06 per cent in May 2011 over May 2010, up from the 8.66 per cent jump in April over April last year. Given observed data and continuing expectations, it remains to be seen whether the RBI will prefer a 25 basis point (bp) increase in its policy statement this week, or would want to administer one more shock, as it did six weeks ago, and opt for a 50 bp hike. Most expect a milder dose of 25 bps this Thursday. The higher-than-expected rate of inflation is in large part on account of a sharper increase in the price index for manufactured products, where the inflation rate has gone up from 6.18 per cent in April over April to 7.27 per cent in May over May. It suggests that the reported slowing down of industrial growth has not weakened pricing power in manufacturing. It is a moot point if this shows continued overheating of the industrial economy, but it certainly suggests that monetary policy must continue to be deployed to manage inflationary expectations.

There is, however, a caveat that must be entered. Apart from the long- stated concern about using WPI rather than the consumer price index as an indicator of inflationary expectations (justified on the grounds that WPI is a better indicator of producer prices) the fact remains that India's economic data still suffers from a time lag in publication. Far too many macroeconomic policy decisions, statements and judgement calls are being made on the basis of weak and dated data. Macroeconomic authorities in developed economies have access to more recent and accurate production and price data and are, therefore, able to fine-tune policy to changing sentiment and outcome. Given time lags and coverage shortcomings, it is not clear whether Indian macroeconomic authorities should be responding so frequently to price and output trends and adjusting policy rates every six weeks. The RBI has raised rates ten times between March 2010 and June 2011. Yet, the central bank has not broken the back of inflationary expectations. It is not clear if just five policy interventions, based on a better understanding of trends, would have been less effective. Frequent and incessant comment on weak and unreliable data does not amount to sound policy. Instead, a measured but decisive intervention in sync with observed and expected trends may serve policy objectives better.


 Going forward, given the imperative to increase diesel and other fuel and energy prices, inflation management would require greater effort on the fiscal front, liberalisation of internal trade policy and easing of other supply bottlenecks. Monetary policy alone cannot win the battle against inflation.







At a time when even successful professional CEOs in Indian companies find themselves playing musical chairs and merry-go-round, Yogesh (Yogi) Chander Deveshwar is clearly in a class of his own. It is, therefore, not surprising that the ITC board has given him a five-year extension after a 15-year term as executive chairman. With this extension, Mr Deveshwar becomes ITC's longest-serving chairman. Longevity in office, of course, is not a virtue in itself but it does enable CEOs to consolidate in a way their shorter-tenure counterparts may not always manage. Cases in point are A M Naik, executive head of Larsen & Toubro since 1999 (as managing director; he added chairman to the designation in 2003), and E Sreedharan, managing director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation since 1997. Both are outstanding performers and have fashioned themselves as prominent public figures. Mr Deveshwar, by contrast, is low-profile, but he has arguably been the better performer. He inherited a company neck-deep in unsavoury controversies — tax evasion charges, a predecessor who had been jailed for financial irregularities in overseas deals and strained relations with its largest overseas shareholder, British American Tobacco (BAT). When he took charge, many suggested that, more than executive abilities, Mr Deveshwar displayed consummate managerial skills in parrying the senior-level infighting in the early nineties when tensions with BAT over the latter raising its stake from 33 to 51 per cent ran high. Certainly, in the poisonous atmosphere at ITC's ornate Kolkata headquarters in those days, and as anointed successor to the feisty and earthy K L Chugh, Mr Deveshwar must have possessed considerable talent for manoeuvre. Still, if those controversies have faded into the mists of corporate history, the credit clearly goes to Mr Deveshwar.

Consider the hard facts: a shareholder who invested in ITC in 2002 (the earliest year for which consolidated results are available) would have seen her investment grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21 per cent. Sales have grown at a CAGR of 16 per cent and net profit 17 per cent — decent, not spectacular, going for a company that spent a considerable amount of its resources expanding and diversifying. In contrast to the early nineties when ITC exited several businesses – financial services, agri-business and seeds – Mr Deveshwar has managed to build the hotel business into a respectable global brand (the Bill Clinton and George Bush visits no doubt helped) and grow the paper business. He has launched several new ones — a clothing brand (Wills Lifestyle) and a foray into information-technology-enabled rural information and trading network called e-choupal, an initiative that attracted attention more for its novel "inclusive" agenda before Indian corporations were forced to think of "inclusive growth"!


 Much of this was achieved by nurturing new managerial talent. ITC has also been one of the early adopters of environmental standards, becoming water- and carbon-positive long before environment ever came on India Inc's agenda. For his remaining five-year term, Mr Deveshwar's challenge will be to identify and build his successor, a project that he's clearly set for himself. But perhaps the bigger one is kicking the dependence on tobacco and cigarettes, much of which has financed the group's growth. The business already accounts for a lower percentage of ITC's turnover — from 90 per cent in FY 2001 to about 70 per cent now. Learning to grow without tobacco will be a real test of ability.







The expansion woes of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port (JNP), India's largest container handling facility, just do not seem to end. Tenders called for the construction of the fourth container terminal were put on hold when one of the applicants approached the Supreme Court because they were not allowed to bid for the project. When the court finally gave its decision and everyone expected the bidding process to start, it received another setback when one more potential bidder who did not get security clearance approached the court and managed to have the matter stayed. No one knows when it will finally be decided.

The delay is more serious than it might appear at first glance. All three terminals at JNP function at well above their installed capacity. The port's ability to handle more container traffic is severely constrained and, considering that the increase in container traffic is inevitable in a rapidly-growing economy, hold-ups and bottlenecks at sea ports only add to transaction costs and severely impact India's exim trade.


 The immediate initiative being taken to tackle this problem is to increase handling capacity in the port-run terminal through the induction of better equipment. New quay cranes have been ordered and are expected to be in place shortly. The higher productivity of these cranes will augment existing capacity so that even if construction of new berths and terminals is delayed, additional traffic can still be handled. The port also plans to deepen the draft at the shallow berth to enable smaller vessels to be handled there.

These are welcome steps but they are, at best, palliatives. According to a World Bank estimate (admittedly made before the worldwide slowdown) annual container traffic in the country would grow to 21 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) by 2015, up from about 9.2 million TEUs in the financial year 2011. This requires a quantum leap in the handling capacity if we wish to avoid congestion and delay. So, the fourth terminal must come up immediately and plans for the fifth must go beyond the drawing board.

A more immediate question that is closely linked with capacity augmentation but has never been seriously considered is the future of the Jawaharlal Nehru Port Container Terminal (JNPCT) run by the port itself. There are three container terminals in JNP, of which two are run by private operators, the Nhava Sheva International Container Terminal (NSICT) and the Gateway Terminals India Private Limited (GTIPL). An analysis of the figures of containers handled by each terminal clearly points to a declining market share for JNPCT. From a high of 1.31 million TEUs handled in 2006-07, JNPCT handled just 0.78 million TEUs in 2009-10. In 2006-07, the two private terminals together handled less than JNPCT. But by 2010-11 they accounted for 3.39 million TEUs against JNPCT's 0.88 million. While the 13 per cent increase in traffic at the port terminal in that year was higher than that of the other two terminals, it was registered on a much lower base.

It may seem surprising that the two private terminals that started operation much later than the port terminal should have completely outstripped the latter in such a short time. But there are good reasons for this. The private terminals place a huge premium on the efficiency of operation. Both crane productivity (number of moves of each individual crane per hour) and berth productivity (total number of moves of all cranes employed on a ship) are higher in the two private terminals. Since they are able to turn around a vessel in the shortest possible time, shipping lines vote with their feet by opting for these terminals rather than the port terminal. Even in 2008-09, the worst year of the slowdown, GTIPL recorded a small increase in containers handled. Also, though numbers fell in NSICT, it was by barely 5 per cent.

All this seems to argue that one important way to increase capacity is to privatise the port-operated terminal and promote healthy competition among all three terminals. There is no doubt that the port-operated terminal has the potential to perform far above its current level. And the key to unleash this competitive instinct must be the privatisation of this terminal and its takeover by the best and most efficient bidder. The problem of what to do with the port staff on the terminal after privatisation will definitely arise but it is not insurmountable. In Chennai the port-operated terminal was privatised nearly 10 years ago and, after some initial teething troubles, it now functions efficiently. In fact the growth of the container business in the Chennai port outstrips that in other ports in India.

But, important though they are, efficiency and higher handling capacity are not the only reasons why the terminal needs to be privatised. It must be remembered that in respect of the two private terminals, JNP functions as a landlord port. In that role it must be absolutely impartial in its treatment of all the terminals operating in the port and there should be no whiff of special treatment to any one operator. As long as the port itself is the operator of one of the terminals, can it be said that the landlord is even handed in its treatment of all three terminals? Whether it is a question of providing tug support to large vessels or pilotage to vessels queuing up for early entry into the port or even deciding the order of berthing of different vessels, regardless of how evenly the port authorities hold the balance, there will always be that nagging suspicion that vessels tying up at JNPCT will be given preference over vessels bound for the two private terminals. So, even more than the efficiency factor, it is equity considerations that argue most strongly in favour of the early privatisation of JNPCT. JNP must decide whether it wants to be the landlord or the operator. It cannot be both.

The writer is former shipping secretary, Government of India





Finance ministry officials are still optimistic that they will be able to rein in the Union government's fiscal deficit for the current fiscal year to the budgeted level of 4.6 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). Is this pure optimism or a simple case of over-confidence? A quick assessment of the ground reality will tell you that it is a reflection of the finance ministry's mistaken faith in factors beyond its control.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had made four key assumptions while setting a fiscal deficit target of 4.6 per cent for the current year, compared to 5.1 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. One, he had hoped for a GDP growth rate of nine per cent. Make no mistake that this was a critical assumption. Now that signs of an economic slowdown are unmistakably evident, not only is the growth estimate for 2011-12 likely to be revised downwards, the government's tax revenue growth projections too will suffer a blow, upsetting the fiscal deficit estimates. If you thought that the finance minister could absorb the impact of a shortfall in tax revenue collections by simply squeezing expenditure, you are likely to make another error of judgement.


 This is because in his desire to reduce the fiscal deficit for the current year, Mr Mukherjee had allowed only a measly rise of three per cent for the government's total expenditure in the current year over the revised estimate for 2010-11. With such low expenditure growth budgeted for the current year, Mr Mukherjee will have hardly any scope for a further cut in expenditure. If any reduction is possible, it will unfortunately be in the area of capital expenditure.

That would be a double blow — one for the fiscal deficit reduction plan and the other for the plan to spend more in areas to build capital asset. The problem will aggravate since there are no signs of any reduction in the government's revenue expenditure. That brings us to the second critical assumption made by Mr Mukherjee in the Budget for 2011-12.

The finance minister had made no provision to meet the rising subsidy burden in the hope that the government would be able to introduce a cash transfer scheme for the various subsidy schemes using the much-vaunted unique identification programme of Nandan Nilekani. However, the estimates of the availability of an adequate number of biometric identities by September, which would have made it possible for the government to kick-start the cash transfer scheme and thereby check the subsidy bill, have gone awry.

It was not a question of just keeping a check on subsidies. While presenting Budget 2011-12, the finance minister was confident of reducing the government's subsidy bill by more than 12 per cent. No other finance minister in recent times has either projected such a cut or come anywhere close to achieving such a reduction. If the current developments are any indication, Mr Mukherjee will not be an exception to the past trend. That will be yet another blow to the government's estimates for fiscal deficit.

Thirdly, Mr Mukherjee's calculations on the need to compensate the oil marketing companies for their under-recoveries show a gross underestimation. The Rs 20,000 crore provided in the current year have already been used to meet the oil marketing companies' under-recoveries in the fourth quarter of 2010-11. The first quarter of the current financial year will end in another two weeks. And after showing some courage in going ahead with a Rs 5-increase in petrol prices, the government has suddenly developed cold feet over its proposal to effect similar increases in the prices of diesel, kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas. No one knows by when the government will muster the courage to increase the prices of these commodities.

Given the current trend of international crude oil prices, and if we assume that the government fails to address the oil sector's pricing concerns, the total under-recoveries of oil marketing companies in the whole of 2011-12 will be Rs 1.65 lakh crore. One third of this burden is to be shared by the upstream oil companies like ONGC and Oil India. Oil marketing companies are expected to share only about five per cent of this burden, thus leaving an under-recovery gap of about Rs 1 lakh crore (or a little more than a per cent of GDP) to be met by the Union government. In other words, the finance ministry may have to provide for this amount, which will stretch its fiscal deficit by a percentage point.

There is yet another area of concern. The finance minister had projected receipts of about Rs 40,000 crore from disinvestment of government equity in public sector undertakings (PSUs). Last year, when the stock markets were in better shape, the government could meet only half its target by raising about Rs 22,000 crore. With the markets showing no sign of any extra appetite for PSUs' shares, it is doubtful if the government would be able to achieve even last year's figures through disinvestment.

Undeniably, there are many downside risks in the finance ministry's revenue projections. Also, there is a strong likelihood of its expenditure on subsidies, including the demands for meeting the oil sector's under-recoveries, exceeding the Budget estimates. The question then is whether the finance ministry's optimism about sticking to the fiscal deficit target is a sign of its foolhardiness or a simple refusal to recognise the reality. In either case, the finance ministry needs to do some deep introspection.






Even two decades after the Mandal judgment of the Supreme Court, the reservation issue is still simmering, especially in the field of higher education. It would seem that students who first queue up at professional colleges for admission and fail, troop to the courts for the admission of their writ petitions.

There have been at least five major judgments in the past years trying to unscramble the quota tangle, and scores of minor ones. They are a heady mix of law, sociology, ontology and history. A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court added one more opus (165 pages, including two English poems) to the list, discussing the right of private unaided professional colleges to choose the "source" of candidates.


The main issue was whether a private unaided professional college (not run by minorities) can claim the untrammelled right to admit students of their choice and whether the state can intervene if the institution reserves all the seats for one class of people. The Delhi government had allowed the army medical college to admit exclusively wards of military personnel. This was challenged by students and the Indian Medical Association. The Delhi High Court upheld the exclusion policy. But the Supreme Court ruled that the 100 per cent reservation was unconstitutional and arbitrary and violative of the "basic principles of democratic governance".

If the policy approved by the government is stretched further, it would bring the cursed caste-system through the back door. It would carve the entire field of higher education into "gated communities", according to the court. Each institution will then define its source of students in whatever manner it chooses. For instance, the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) or a group of software companies may start a software engineering college and limit admission to their ilk. The judiciary may start law colleges for judges' ward. IAS will follow. "How will the nation take the burden of such walled and divided portals of knowledge?" the court asked and recalled the story of the camel that sought room for a foot in the tent and then occupied the whole space.

In such a situation, it is the constitutional duty of the state to intervene and take affirmative steps. It is not just the benign provisions in the chapters on fundamental rights and the directive principles of state policy that cast such obligation on the state, but it is morally imperative, said the judgment.

Earlier, the state had almost the monopoly in higher education. But its role has declined drastically due to its weak financial position. Liberalisation, globalisation and privatisation accelerated this process. But it is not mere financial burden that the state should take care of. It has the obligation to work towards an egalitarian society. The court can also ensure that the state fulfils this commitment. In this judgment, the court has done exactly that. When a rule is made against the egalitarian principles of the Constitution, the court can strike it down, as it has done in the present case.

The judgment quoted the latest statistics that reveal that 85 per cent or more of all engineering seats and 50 per cent of medical seats are in the private sector. If private institutions build walls against disadvantaged youngsters, it would lead to "a state of social emergency with the potential for conflagration that would be on an unimaginable scale," warned the court. "Granting access to higher education solely or mostly to the privileged segments of our population would be to invite cultural genocide."

Despite these strong assertions from the court in several judgments, the private sector has been in a stance of a permanent tug of war with the state. They put forward their fundamental right to carry on their profession without the interference of the government. They also flaunt the bogey that admission without following the merit list will affect the quality of education and their reputation. Currently, the Kerala government is waging a battle against private colleges as it has claimed 50 per cent seats in medical PG courses. The battle has already landed in the high court and it is a matter of time before it moves to the Supreme Court. Other educationally-developed states that insist on their share in the seats are likely to follow.

The heuristic experience indicates that states that had reservation for the disadvantaged sections for nearly 100 years have progressed faster educationally and economically. Therefore, the contention of the private sector that reservation will affect the quality of education has been proved wrong. The Supreme Court also discounts such fears in this judgment. In fact, it goes on to say that "it would be constitutionally impermissible, and indeed, unethical, to lay the blame for any loss of academic standards on students in reserved category."




Investors should be aware of regulatory risks but abruptly changing rules is hardly investor-friendly either.

R Balakrishnan
Independent analyst & columnist


The players in the market seem to have been bested. It is only because they chose to focus on the upside and ignore the downside

Regulatory arbitrage is something that speculators thrive on. Investments can be based on fundamental or technical analyses, under typical situations. Regulatory arbitrage is outside the realm of both of these. Here, the investor is typically betting on a regulatory action by someone over whom he has no control. There is hope that a crowd action will force the regulator to amend the laws in a manner that does not disappoint the crowd. The investors are great believers in the adage that "Wall Street writes the rules".

In this instance, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) has stuck to its promise. Statistical evidence proves that liquidity was adequate in the Indian Depository Receipt (IDR) market and hence it did not warrant conversion. Now, there is no point in breaking down the figures of liquidity and saying that this liquidity is actually "illiquid". Do we ever see a broker or an institution using the same trading logic when it comes to midcap shares in the domestic bourses?

Sebi not only has to ensure fairness in its action as a regulator but presumably also has a developmental role when it comes to the market and expanding the market. Besides this, it also has a role to be equal-handed when it comes to dealing with various investor classes.

There would be a hue and cry saying that Sebi will kill the future of IDR issuances. We have seen what global depository receipts have done. Liquidity is provided by market makers. The same set of people cannot now come back and say that liquidity is an issue.

When an "informed" investor (which most institutional investors ought to be, including the high net worth individuals they advise and use as parking stations for their positions many times) takes a view, surely he is aware of the risks. At the point of investment, there are two outcomes. One is favourable and the other is not. So, one has surely evaluated both outcomes and then placed the bet. Now, the protest is simply because the outcome is not favourable. It is like a baby crying to acquire the latest toy.

I also do not believe that this action, will, in any way deter future IDR issues. Ultimately, fundamental valuation is something that should be driving investments. This would be the factor that brings arbitrage down to minimal levels. Arbitrage in equities (an equity share is an equity share, whichever form it is held) that is driven by quirks is a high-risk game and beyond the realm of investment. The regulator is not bound to "protect" someone who invests anticipating regulatory action of a particular nature.

I also believe that this is not the end of the road as far as the matter goes. Regulations are rarely etched in stone. A good regulator will change regulations in tune with the times and needs. Now, if everyone loses interest in the IDRs, two things should happen:

(i) The instrument would become illiquid due to lack of interest and force the regulator to take a relook at this decision;

(ii) Future IDR issuances will factor in the (equal) possibility of the absence of the two-way fungibility of an IDR.

Sebi's move has in no way hurt "investors". Investors had the option of either buying the IDRs or the main share. Even an Indian citizen could have bought these shares in the Hong Kong market, given the freedom to an individual to invest in overseas funds and investment vehicles. The set of investors that presumably bought these IDRs on the sole consideration of arbitrage have taken risks beyond the realm of investing. It is smart money and smart money should be aware of the downsides also.

Of course, speculators who have taken positions in the IDR will protest loudly. However, in this instance, there is no case of "equity" or "fairness" being vitiated or violated by the regulator.

For once, the players in the market seem to have been bested. It is only because they chose to focus on the upside and ignore the downside. The interesting thing is that no one here seems to be making an assessment of whether the IDR at these levels is investment-worthy or not, which is what the money managers ought to be doing instead of acting like spoilt children.

Seth R Freeman
CEO, EM Capital Management

If I were on the Sebi board, I would set a regulation that tightly limits foreign ownership of IDRs but also eliminate fuzzy one-year hold rules

In developed and developing markets, nothing annoys investors more than abrupt changes in rules and particularly those that are applied retroactively. In every offering document there is a "Risks Section" and in documents for emerging markets investments there is a section titled "Emerging Markets Risks". The reality is that few investors carefully read these boiler-plate sections. Investors who have read the Risks Section must believe their investment will be immune to the potential risks described in the documents, including emerging markets risks. Otherwise, only an irrational person would ever decide to invest in an emerging market.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India's (Sebi's) June 3 announcement that the Indian Depository Receipts (IDRs) may not be redeemed for the underlying shares unless the IDRs meet an illiquidity test is a perfect example of Emerging Markets Risk. Sebi's announcement came virtually one year after the Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) issue, when investors had been told they would be able to redeem their IDRs for underlying shares. It is important to note that the StanChart IDR is the first and only IDR and it doesn't require an MBA to understand its importance as a test for India's future IDR market. Although we are neither a customer nor shareholder of StanChart, the bank should be recognised for demonstrating its long-term commitment to the Indian market and to provide the opportunity for Indian investors to participate in its long-term success. The bank certainly didn't need to raise money in India, it wanted to signal that India is one of its most important markets. The listing of StanChart IDRs provided an easily assessable mode of inclusive financial growth and empowered individual Indian investors the chance to diversify their investments.

Despite the best intentions, we discover that the StanChart IDR listing for the most part failed to provide access to Indians. We have since learned that approximately 70 per cent of the StanChart IDRs have been held by foreign investors with Indian retail investors owning only 8 per cent. Instead, the IDR created a new arbitrage opportunity for foreign professional investors. The sharp decline in the IDRs on June 6 underlines the fact that foreign investors were holding the shares with the sole intention of redeeming them for the underlying shares to realise a sizeable arbitrage profit based on their discount to StanChart shares listed in London and Hong Kong. It would not surprise me if deeper research indicates that a majority of the foreign investors holding StanChart IDRs are not even Sebi-registered Foreign Institutional Investors (FIIs) and bought using participatory notes (P-Notes) or some other structured product sold by the most vocal FII banks such as Credit Suisse. Foreign P-Note investors could have bought the underlying shares directly in the first place, if they really wanted to own StanChart.

Sebi certainly risks institutional credibility by abruptly changing or simply issuing a rule clarification, in this case on day 360 of a one-year hold rule. It must have been obvious to the regulator that most of the issue is foreign-owned and what the IDR holders' investment strategy has been most of the past year. This is precisely the kind of Emerging Market Risk a securities regulator should avoid. However, I do not feel any empathy for the foreign arbitrageurs. They should have read the Risks Section.

If IDRs are supposed to provide Indians access to foreign securities, individual Indian investors should have full IDR redemption rights up to the existing Reserve Bank of India regulation allowing up to $200,000 in permitted external investments. IDRs support the inclusive financial growth needed for India and their availability reinforces India's rapidly growing global importance. If I were on the Sebi board, I would set a regulation that tightly limits foreign ownership of IDRs but also eliminate fuzzy one-year hold rules that are too tempting and easy for a nervous regulator to change. Sebi should create mechanisms and products that encourage domestic investors to buy and hold India equities. This will enable inclusive financial growth without creating new opportunities for foreign investors to scrape off short- and long-term gains that distort liquidity and valuations. In every case, regulatory consistency and transparency and the goal of eliminating India from the "Emerging Market Risks section will facilitate moving from emerging to developed.








The initiative for price stability and growth has to move from Mint Street to Parliament Street.

If the RBI thought the last fiscal was a trying one with its set of intertwining parameters such as growth that is not fast enough, soaring inflation and exuberant policy makers, it has yet to reckon with the current year's dilemmas. These dilemmas emerge from growth that is slowing down on account of falling industrial output, especially in the capital goods sector, persistently high inflation, and policymakers who would like the RBI to reverse its tight money policy.

It is against this backdrop of cross-eyed reality that the central bank will be delivering its mid-quarter review of the monetary policy today. Most bankers expect the Reserve Bank of India to raise its key rates by at least 25 basis points; others think that after nine spikes, it should loosen interest rates a bit. The third view is that markets have factored in the tight monetary policy — a euphemistic way, perhaps, of saying that the RBI measures matter little — and would, therefore, want the central bank to stay the course. There is merit in all of these views. After 15 months, interest rates have climbed considerably and the common view among corporates is that it is beginning to weigh heavily on investment plans and their order books. The RBI itself had noted in April, in its monetary policy for the current fiscal, that investment was dipping and that the business sentiment was not as roseate as it used to be. It is on account of these reasons that it had moderated its growth forecast. In retrospect, its tight money policies had worked in reducing prices, but only of those in the manufacturing sector, not those of food. In fact, all through the 15 months of consistent increases in its key rates, food or primary inflation stayed stubbornly high. All that one can say at this juncture about the RBI's tight money policies is that they have moderated manufacturing growth and, perhaps, that is why officials in the North Block would like it to reverse course.

It is possible that the RBI will continue to abide by its faith in its capacity to bring about price stability and so raise key rates by 25 basis points; or perhaps, it may not. But in either case, not only will markets remain unconcerned, but so will food inflation. Yet, the RBI must be seen to be acting on the inflation front. Unfortunately, as experience has shown, its initiatives will be as futile in their objectives as New Delhi's inaction has been. Clearly, the initiative for price stability and growth has to move to New Delhi.






A thinking government, regional or central, would ensure sustainable wages for skilled artisans and help them market the handcrafted products, instead of letting them join the NREGS queue.

The design and execution of the much-touted National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) are likely to leave a lasting impact on some areas of our economy. Surely, the prototype version did not foresee that it would act as a catalyst for changes that otherwise required a strong political will, viz., mechanisation of agriculture.

Traditional skills, which for centuries, even in adverse circumstances, provided livelihood for millions of families, are being undervalued. For want of marketing skills resulting in poor sales, they may have bred underemployment, but unemployment and insecurity, they did not.

However, in the recent past, growing input costs and failure to realise sustainable price for their produce resulted in suicides among people with skills inherited over generations.

AP weavers' demand

The NREGS is acting as a catalyst in an already calamitous situation among handloom workers in parts of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. A recent delegation of weavers from Andhra Pradesh demanded from the Prime Minister a NREGS exclusively for handloom weavers.

Joining the queue for NREGS is the small number of Ona Villu makers in south Tamil Nadu. Essentially from the community of carpenters or the viswakarma, these are families which have for generations undertaken the service of preparing the bow of Sri Rama for the ancient Tiruvattaru temple.

Requiring three months of total dedication and commitment, they live a life of penance during the period – selecting the wood, crafting and readying the bow.

A theme drawn from the Ramayana is then drawn and painted on them with selected natural dyes. They are then offered on the sacred Onam day with due accompanying ceremony.

The faceless bureaucracy managing temples, quoting archaic rules fix ridiculously paltry wages for these artisans.

The two sons of a now deceased artisan, who made the villu in Tiruvattaru for more than four decades, have migrated to different villages, one joining the "employment guarantee" queue. The villu, however, are much sought after, less as prasadam and more as unique art pieces to adorn upmarket homes in the metros.

A thinking government, regional or central, would ensure sustainable wages for the 90-day penance, and for the rest of the year promote the artisan by linking up with craft bazaars held all over the country.

Handloom weavers producing yardage of sarees, dhotis or upholstery too prefer to dig canals and fill earth in them again! Ironically, the patolas and paitanis are possessions of pride for most women who can afford them! Men also do make a fashion statement with their "Fabindia" kurtas.

Historically self sustaining communities with skills are now finding joining the unskilled list of dole seekers more assuring! Skills mastered over generations and self respect as job creators are virtues that no longer sustain livelihoods!

Does it matter that the scheme is applicable only to unskilled workers? The economic condition of the unskilled is seen to be cushioned with money from the NREGS, grains from PDS, funds for housing and health insurance too. Justifiable and no questions asked.

Little incentive

But the weaver, the carpenter, the goldsmith, the kalamkar, the Bidri blacksmith no longer have any incentive to carry on. The system has excluded them. The schemes which were tailor-made for them were poorly funded and suffered due to half-hearted implementation. Among this class of self employed, whose core competency is in creating hand crafted, eco-friendly products, a perception has set in that governments do not value them though the markets may. And their skills are no good to reach the market that exists. Prof Shankar Acharya, responding to a question on distortions in the labour market commented, "…the other thing that worries me about NREGA is that you are creating dependency in the labour force. It is putting across that the government is there to provide me employment and it is not sustainable. (, India, 07/02/2011)

The other collateral damage this scheme is alleged to have caused in the rural areas is the changes in farm practices. During planting of paddy from nurseries on to the field and during harvest, farm hands are unavailable.

Impact on farming

Even the small farmer today has to join in the village "mechanised harvester" pool. The just ended harvest season saw convoys of harvesters reaching out to far flung villages in Karimnagar, Nizamabad and Warangal as substitutes for farm hands. They were not displacing them!

The agriculturally rich coastal Andhra farmers feel that they are losing out on the cost advantage due to the non-availability of workers. Unemployment even among the unskilled was never an issue in many districts where work, albeit seasonally changing in nature, was available.

Small and medium enterprises are also hard pressed for semi skilled and unskilled workers. Units in cities such as Hyderabad, Vishakapatnam and Tanuku are convinced that workers are no longer moving out of their villages.

In villages, there are no more farm hands, nor are count-worthy assets being created with the NREGS workers' participation. So where are our abundant unskilled/semiskilled workers?

Sushma Nath, a senior bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry was reported (Wall Street Journal Digital Network, 1 March 2011) to have said that the programme was intended to offer last-ditch employment to poorest citizens, not attract workers away from higher-paying manufacturing jobs. At a time, when global competitiveness is challenging the Indian industry, these developments need to be carefully studied, with a sense of urgency.






 India's exports in 2010-11 were helped along by growth in world output and trade, even as the RBI allowed the rupee to appreciate. However, exports may not do as well this year.

India's exports grew by 37.5 per cent in 2010-11. It is true that the year before saw negative growth in exports on account of the global financial crisis. As such, the base effect had its impact in inflating the export growth number. However, even after accounting for the base effect, export growth is estimated at around 30 per cent in 2010-11.

The surge in exports helped contain the current account deficit (CAD) to around 2.5 per cent of GDP. The high growth in exports helped not only in surpassing the target of $200 billion for 2010-11, but also motivated the Government to upwardly revise the target for 2013-14 to $500 billion, from $450 billion agreed upon a few months back.

The Real Effective Exchange Rate (REER) indices for six-currency, 30-currency and 36 currency baskets exhibited appreciation of the rupee during 2010-11. The domestic interest rates also were at elevated levels due to the shortage of liquidity and the hike in policy rates (in order to control inflation) on seven occasions in 2010-11, amounting to a cumulative increase of 175 basis points.

Against the grain

The popular perception is that rising interest rates and an appreciation of the REER hurt exports. How come the standard arguments did not hold?

First, it was case of a rising tide lifting all boats. The growth in global output and merchandise trade volumes did help growth in exports. While output rebounded for the world economy to 5 per cent from a negative 0.8 per cent, trade volumes grew by 14.5 per cent in 2010 from a negative 12 per cent in 2009.

Second, diversification of the export basket and across destinations helped the stellar growth in exports. Exports have seen a shift away from the US and EU to West Asia, Asia and other emerging markets.

Third, Nominal Effective Exchange Rate (NEER) appreciation has been much less than REER appreciation (Table).

REER appreciation was maximum for the six-currency index, reflecting higher inflation differential with countries such as the US, the Eurozone (comprising 12 countries), the UK, Japan, China and Hong Kong that constitute the index.

While China is often accused for keeping an artificially undervalued exchange rate to help its exports, one wonders what has prompted India with a much lesser share in world exports to leave its exchange rate to market forces.

Hands-off approach

The hands-off approach opted by RBI in the currency market in 2010-11 can be appreciated from the extent of its intervention in the forex market. RBI's intervention was $1.6 billion in all of 2010-11, compared with $2.5 billion in 2009-10 and $35 billion in 2008-09. Further, except in June and during September to November 2010, the RBI did not sell or purchase dollars in the rest of the eight months.

What explains this hands-off approach of RBI when there was a case for RBI buying dollars to neutralise the inflow of forex and keep the exchange rate more competitive? By buying dollars, it would have added to liquidity in the economy and negated its anti-inflationary stance. Thus, the overall macroeconomic management necessitated non-intervention in the forex market.

When the central bank does not intervene, exchange rates are guided by capital flows. Capital flows, or the combined FDI and FII flows, came down significantly during 2010-11. While foreign direct investment (FDI) came down markedly, the increase in FII was only marginal.

FDI came down from $25.8 billion in 2009-10 to $19.4 billion in 2010-11, whereas foreign institutional investment (FII) flows increased to $24.3billion in 2010-11 from $23.4 billion in 2009-10.

Notwithstanding the overall decline in the combined flows from FDI and FII, the external commercial borrowings (ECBs) went up significantly to $25.07 billion in 2010-11 from $20.7 billion in 2009-10.

Thus, higher ECBs as well as slightly higher NRI deposits in 2010-11 prevented the depreciation of the rupee. On the demand side, corporates' preference for ECBs can be appreciated as domestic interest rates were higher in view of the rate hike by the RBI and the tight liquidity situation.

Exports and the economy

On the supply side, low interest rates in the developed markets as they pursued an easy money policy for the entire of 2010-11 to stave off recessionary trend have helped.

Interest rate differential between India and the developed markets widened significantly in 2010-11. The rate differential, however, did not attract FII inflows as one would have expected. This implies the confidence in the Indian economy did take a beating in the 2010-11.

In the context of managing the impossible trinity, the RBI has chosen the make the exchange rate more flexible to retain its independence on the policy front and without raising many eyebrows about capital controls.

Growth of global output and trade is expected to slow down in 2011-12. The government is thinking of doing away with the DEPB, an incentive scheme for exporters, on June 31, 2011. In this context, sustaining the high growth of exports is going to be a key challenge in 2011-12.

(The author is Chief Economist, Bank of India. The views expressed here are personal.)






The recent gyrations focussing on the "Land Development Ordinance" – which fulfilled the promise made by Ms Mamata Banerjee to the disgruntled landlosers in Singur that she would return their land if she came to power – suggests strongly that the Chief Minister will stop at nothing literally to keep her word.

This, certainly, is a favourable trait of any Government, but then there is a way in which such things are usually done – which may entail some delay, established procedures which will have to be followed.

After all, Ms Banerjee herself set the best example in this direction when she exhorted the new Speaker, at the time of his election, to give proportionately more importance to the Opposition in the Assembly if the drawbacks in the State Government's handling of issues were to be highlighted properly.

Unseemly haste

Clearly, the Ordinance flipflop was the direct result of unseemly haste in getting the land-promise fulfilled, especially in view of the fact that the Singur land campaign was the initial spark for the Trinamool riding to power.

Ms Banerjee wanted to let the Singur land-campaigners to know that she had not forgotten them after coming to power, which led her to rush headlong into getting the Ordinance out, under which around 400 acres of the 997 acres set aside for the proposed Tata Nano plant would be returned to their owners. But in doing so, a number of settled conventions involving the issuing of Ordinances were flouted, which led the Government to revise its stand and wait for the Assembly session to get under way for passage of a Bill .

The new legislation principally will amend the old Land Act so that land once acquired can be "returned" to their original owners.

The other, and more important, aspect of the land being actually returned to the people concerned will be the next step, and it is here that a number of implementation-problems are bound to crop up. One hopes that Ms Banerjee's Government is able to tackle the hurdles effectively because if it fails to do so, it will be extremely unfortunate in that her most important promise to those who enabled her to dislodge the Left Front regime will remain unfulfilled.

Investor summit

The long and the short of it is that this is not the time to look back and get bogged down in controversies which will get West Bengal nowhere. The time has come to break with the past and set the ball rolling so that the children of the State can look forward to a better standard of life.

The proposed June 18 investor summit which is to be held in Kolkata should be treated as nothing short of a milestone in this new journey. Admittedly, the prevailing work-culture is not of the very best vintage, but this should not deter Ms Banerjee in her economic task because, among other things, she has an able economic and finance ministerial team by her side to help her forge a new path.






Don't put all your eggs in one basket. That's what Slovenia, nestled in Europe's Alpine region, has come to realise.

Though it was the fastest growing member of the Euro zone before the recession, the country had to pay dearly for confining its trade largely within the European Union. Last year, 70 per cent of its exports and almost 80 per cent of imports were in its own region. Though on the slow road to recovery, the economy has been plagued by a rising unemployment trend (currently around 12 per cent), an ageing population and high public deficit . Add to this the pressure for reform from both the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. Slovenia has no choice but to take steps unpopular in a country with a largely socialist mind set. Also, it wants to make sure that it does not in any circumstance go the way of Greece or Ireland. Aggressively looking towards a combination of attracting investments and executing policy reform, the Prime Minister, Mr Borut Pahor, has been trying to bring about several changes, some of which the country's two million population refuses to stomach.

Pension reform

The most recent and the most controversial has been the pension reform that the Government mooted. It lost the referendum on June 5 with an overwhelming majority voting against it. The reform would have meant that the retirement age in the country increases from 60 to 65 and hence help bring the budget deficit to under 3 per cent of the gross domestic product by 2013. This is something that the European Union has been pressing for to ensure economic sustainability. But Slovenia's rights-oriented society, formerly part of Yugoslavia and used to pension from age 60, firmly rejected the move. And now its Socialist Democrat-led coalition government has to find other innovative means to balance its exchequer, even as the Opposition argues for early elections.

Look East

To harness investments and improve its growth rate, Slovenia has decided to look East. Even more so, explore the emerging markets of India and China for enhanced export avenues and to attract foreign direct investments.

Though West Asia and the Far East hold as much promise, and China has been on the radar for some time, India has come into the focus very recently. Though Slovenia is keen on close diplomatic relations with India being aware of the close relationship former President Josip Broz Tito had with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and the role both the countries (India and Yugoslavia) played in the Non-Aligned Movement, at this point of time it is mainly eyeing economic tie-ups and increased trade.

Hence, the visit of Mr Pahor to India has a great significance for the tiny nation as it explores investments and business opportunities in logistics, health sector, pharmaceuticals, and energy among others. It is, of course, keen to expand its trading pie in the Asian region and follow a more sustainable trade pattern. As of now, the country has limited trade with the region, with imports much higher than exports. With the country's twentieth independence anniversary coming up in the end of the month, more eggs in the trade basket will be of immense help to the coalition government facing criticism at home and pressure from the EU. It will also be of help if Slovenia can promise its people a more balanced budget without drastically cutting down on existing social measures.








Aspecial feature in this newspaper on Tuesday points to the terrible mess that Indian farming is headed for, and the ostrich-like attitude that policymakers have adopted towards this. The 1960s green revolution, which boosted the yields of our major food crops — rice and wheat — was based on technology that needs lots of water and chemical fertilisers. The pricing, procurement and distribution mechanism was built around this. But erratic rainfall and inadequate canal and tank irrigation in many parts of India meant that farmers gravitated towards diesel pumps to pull groundwater to irrigate crops. In the 1960s, canals and tanks supplied more than 60% of irrigation water, tubewells about 0.6%. By 2002-03, canal water was only a third of all irrigation water, tubewells made up nearly 40%. So, groundwater reserves have plummeted, mostly in states like Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and UP which are large grain producers. The green revolution introduced crops that were shorter and grew faster than local varieties, but that meant less fodder for livestock. Much of the soil subject to intensive cultivation has become poisoned by the use of chemical fertilisers and can't sustain lifeform like earthworms, which are necessary to replenish soil quality.

If continued, this pattern of farming will clearly push India off an environmental cliff. The government has to put in place policies that force a change in the way India farms today. The use of groundwater has to be discouraged. The quickest way to do that would be to hike the price of diesel, now kept artificially low. Tank irrigation has to be encouraged, possibly with generous subsidies that could be funded by money saved from fuel sops. Research and development of genetically modified crops, which need negligible amounts of fertilisers and pesticides, has to be speeded up. Technologies already tested and proved globally should be implemented at home. Finally, fertile east India has to be brought into the farming mainstream by strengthening private transport and storage networks, and dismantling the inefficient state-controlled farm produce marketing committees that prey on farmers.






The OECD's first economic survey of India is upbeat on its outlook till 2025. It forecasts that the economy can grow by 10% over the medium term, if the right policies are in place. This is a reaffirmation of the India growth story, overriding current fears that growth could slow if monetary policy is tightened further to tame inflation. The OECD assumes, correctly, that Indian households will be able to save more as the number of children in every family falls and the elderly population remains stable. It's also correct to pitch for more reforms to boost growth. These include hiking infrastructure spends, pruning deficits, and replacing wasteful subsidies with targeted payments to the poor. Sure, the prescriptions are not new. The government's own Survey for 2010-11 discussed most of these options. Some are structural such as deficient supply of urban land, paucity of infrastructure, food supplies trailing demand, slowing capital formation and a fragile global environment. Yet, the economy is projected to grow by 8.5% this year and can grow by 9% annually.

Central subsidies are mostly being wasted, diverted to the non-poor and worse, underwriting criminal activity like fuel adulteration. The most sensible option is to transfer cash to the intended beneficiaries, while leaving product prices and delivery to a competitive market. Administering these schemes would become easier with the introduction of the unique identity number. To earn our demographic dividend, we need higher quality education. Industry should sponsor students and fund research to enhance skill levels all round. It must work with educational institutions to make university programmes practical and job-oriented. Students who enroll in colleges should also have the minimum level of understanding that secondary schools are supposed to provide. The standard of high school students depends on the quality of primary schooling. Most children in India are enrolled in poorly-run government primary schools, that lack trained, quality teachers. To overcome these problems we need political will as well as a nimble administration.









Just 45 months ago, when some of those opposed to the Sethusamudram shipping-canal project were talking about the need to preserve what they believed to be the ruins of the Ram Setu (bridge) to Lanka, the then Tamil Nadu chief minister Karunanidhi asked, "Who is Ram? If he built the Ram Setu, from which engineering college did he graduate?". Last Sunday, Karunanidhi remembered Ram while reacting to the new TN chief minister Jayalalithaa's comment that the DMK government had done nothing to protect the interests of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. The DMK supremo urged his followers to be as focused in taking up all issues as a banished and out-ofpower Ram was when he took on the r a k s h a s i Tadhaka. Did it take a loss of power to make Karunanidhi remember Ram? As the 15th century poet Kabir wrote, "D u k h m e i n s i m r a n s a b k a r e, s u k h m e i n k a r e n a k o i./ J o s u k h m e i n s i m r a n k a r e, t o d u k h k a h e h o i ?", meaning "In anguish everyone prays to Him, in joy none do/To one who prays in happiness, how can sorrow come?".

With Sonia inviting Jayalalithaa for tea and the latter responding that a meeting would be inappropriate while the Congress-DMK alliance was on, does Karunanidhi's positive reference to Ram have a significance extending beyond Tamil Nadu politics? Is Karunanidhi's acknowledgment of Ram a prelude to inviting Advani for coffee, a more traditional South Indian beverage than tea? Those political pundits who say this is unlikely should remember that the first name of the lawyer appointed to argue the bail-plea of Karunanidhi's arrested daughter Kanimozhi is Ram (Jethmalani), who was elected to the Rajya Sabha with BJP support. "Bad friends lead to sorrow," Karunanidhi said on June 3, his 88th birthday. Is a change of friendship now on the cards?








 As the Planning Commission works on the Approach document for the Twelfth Plan which is just a few months into the future, the time appears to be right to review performance over the Eleventh Plan, fix targets in respect of the Twelfth Plan and examine priorities and policies over sectors. The Planning Commission is actively in this process, as is evident from the document 'Issues for the Approach to the Twelfth Plan' on its website.
Performance over the Eleventh Plan, as mentioned in this document, was remarkable with overall GDP growth likely to be 8.2%, which, though less than the target of 9%, was creditable, given the worst drought in 30 years and the global recession. Progress with respect to inclusiveness has been acknowledged even though not quantified, as is the case with respect to objectives of poverty reduction, health, education and the Millennium Development Goals.
The basic objectives spelt out for the Twelfth Plan, which begins next April, are faster, more inclusive and sustainable growth. The suggested target growth rate over the Plan period is pegged in the range of 9-9.5%, and key instruments for making this growth inclusive include better performance in agriculture with at least 4% growth; faster creation of jobs in manufacturing; creation of appropriate infrastructural facilities and rural connectivity; efforts for development of health, education and skills; reforming the implementation of flagship programmes; and addressing the special challenges focused by vulnerable groups and backward regions. Strategies for individual sectors find brief mention, as also issues relating to Plan size, resources, allocation priorities and concerns regarding governance. Where does one go from here? What is the way forward for achieving the growth targets and objectives in respect of inclusiveness and sustainability? Is there an approach to the 'Approach', which if followed, will enable being ahead of the curve with respect to the framework for economic development of the country, which is what the planning exercise ought to be?
While the 1950 resolution setting up the Planning Commission included, inter alia, resource assessment, plan formulation, priority setting, determination of machinery and policy instruments for successful implementation of the Plan and periodic appraisal in a highly centralised planning system as its major tasks, the subsequent period saw its role moving towards indicative planning and building of a long-term strategic vision for the future of the nation. This included laying down sectoral targets and providing promotional stimulus to the economy to grow in desired directions, while also playing "an integrative role in the development of a holistic approach to policy formulation in critical areas of human and economic development".
Given this background regarding the historical evolution of the Planning Commission's organisational ethos, and also in the context of the current debate regarding the need for an alternative to replace the prevailing neo-classical economic paradigm regarding the efficient markets hypothesis, Indian planners and policy-makers need to examine the relevant issues in light of the Indian economy and the 'Approach' to the Twelfth Plan in particular.
Several questions need to be addressed before finalising the 'Approach' to the Twelfth Five Year Plan.
First, policy-makers need to deliberate on the economic development paradigm that they would like to subscribe to, especially in the background of the recent global economic developments, and the critical analysis that economic theory is currently going through. Would Indian policy-makers like to continue with their existing belief in the power of unfettered free markets to achieve the growth objectives, or is there an alternative paradigm that could be more efficient? Debate on this would need to be followed by conscious adoption and acceptance of the selected option.
Perhaps, a middle path, which is neither the extreme of centralised planning nor has total faith in the 'invisible hand' has to be charted in the interest of balanced and sustainable growth and greater inclusiveness.
    Since the approach need not be uniform across sectors, a second set of issues that need discussion pertain to the approach to be adopted for different sectors like infrastructure, energy and transport, on the one hand, and health, education, and others in the social sector, on the other. The approach in respect of public-private partnerships also needs evaluation, especially with respect to its efficacy in achieving the goal of inclusiveness in the health and education sectors.
A third set of issues relates to the approach to be adopted with respect to integration of the Indian economy with the global economy. Is India maximising the potential gains from globalisation? Or is there scope for policies to promote higher export-led growth?
Fourth, policy-makers need to formulate focused and innovative approaches to deal with issues related to urbanisation and urban poverty, given the very different nature of this form of poverty from that in rural areas, and given its wide spread across cities and towns. Finally, there is need for reflection on the pattern of development to be followed, given India's large agrarian population, and the need to create adequate employment and jobs. Perhaps, issues related to choice of appropriate technology in different sectors and regions need to become part of the planning exercise as part of this focus.
Integrating these and related questions of economic theory and policy into the 'Approach Paper to the Twelfth Plan' will add value to the Plan exercise, while also increasing the likelihood of achieving the laid down objectives of growth, inclusion and sustainability, when the Plan is finally implemented.









Sunil Mitra has hardly been able to keep his head above water since he took the hot seat in the revenue department a few weeks before last year's Budget. The mandate for his team had gone beyond just tax collections after the Supreme Court and civil society criticised the government's failure to tackle the menace of black money. That has meant Mitra's team is working overtime to ensure the return of ill-gotten money stashed overseas. The task is far from easy. "There are many people who legitimately hold money overseas. You first need to prove the criminality of the generation of illicit funds," says Mitra, who is now the finance secretary. Given that the pursuit of black money is just one of the many tasks at the ministry, Mitra says the division of work has not changed. He is confident though that the Centre will meet its fiscal deficit target of 4.6% in 2011-12 despite concerns over a slowdown in revenue growth. "We had a dream run last fiscal year and collections surpassed the target by. 50,000 crore. As I was felicitating officers for their outstanding performance, I merely sounded a note of caution for this fiscal."
Amajor cause for worry, says Mitra, is rising oil and commodity prices. "Any spike in commodity prices is likely to fuel inflation. It is beyond our control." Mitra is also worried about corporate taxes. "We are not doing badly at all on personal income tax, though I do think there is a case to moderate refunds if the government's cash management is hit. There is also scope to finetune expenditure. But I simply do not foresee any need for another stimulus."
The career bureaucrat from West Bengal is emphatic that the India growth story is intact. Mitra, known for dexterity in handling complex issues, took tough decisions on reforms in the power sector in his home state. But he carries people along. That was evident in the balancing act he did to make the new direct taxes code (DTC) more acceptable to all stakeholders. "We live in a globalised world where there is increasing consciousness on protection of tax bases. A tighter regime to track the flow of illicit funds will be in place when the DTC comes into force. The general anti-avoidance rules, proposed in the DTC, will empower taxmen to lift the corporate veil and examine the substance of a transaction." Today, a taxpayer can stay in one country, hold assets in another and manage them from a third country for tax arbitrage. MNCs structure their deals through tax havens, fuelling concerns among regulators and tax authorities on roundtripping of funds.
As for black money, India wants the world community to pressurise tax havens into sharing past banking information as well to trace the past flight of capital. The country has a law in place to impose tax sanctions on countries that fail to share information on Indian tax evaders. But the government is still reluctant to name non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. "We will do so if and when the need arises. But we have to be careful while enforcing the toolbox of measures to counter tax evasion. We need to look at the larger interests of India including attracting FDI."
Switzerland, which has been forced to end banking secrecy laws, has confirmed that its revised tax treaty with India will come into force by December. India has had a breakthrough of sorts in Mauritius as well. "Following pressure from the G20 and the peer review by the global forum on transparency and exchange of information, Mauritius has agreed to resume dialogue through a joint working group. The talks broke down in 2008. This clearly shows that Mauritius wants to move on. The last word is yet to be out on whether Mauritius will agree to re-work its over three decade tax treaty in India to check its misuse, but resumption of the dialogue is a positive development."
Mitra argues that the perception that there is not enough deterrence is misplaced. "There is one school of thought that has been actively pursuing criminalisation of tax evasion." But shouldn't the government abandon the move and instead lower tax rates and have a simple and clean tax system? "We will have a neat tax structure with the DTC and compliance will improve." He is also convinced that the goods and services tax (GST) will curb tax evasion in a big way. "All tax defaults will come up in the system as two vouchers need to be reconciled to endorse a transaction." Mitra will sign off from North Block when his term ends this month. Black money, GST, DTC… despite the progress, there is a long list of unfinished tasks. Would a longer tenure have helped? "In the finest traditions of the civil service, I do not think any tenure extension is needed. The system does not depend on one individual. However, if fixed tenures are for security or strategic reasons, I would believe that financial security is also important." For his part, the Bengali babu is looking forward to spending his retirement years listening to music.










The killing of Osama bin Laden has led to a political tsunami in Pakistan not seen since 1971. Pakistan's former National Security Advisor, Gen Mahmud Durrani has said India must hold Pakistan's hand in its hour of trial. What can India do to help? Do nothing to make matters worse by turning the knife.
We should continue the dialogue. India Pakistan relations are bad enough. But currently Pakistan-Afghanistan ties are no better. Pakistan has been accusing Afghanistan of ganging up with India to foment insurgencies in Balochistan and Fata. Specifically, it has charged India with using its consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar to train Baloch rebels and provide succour to Taliban in the Frontier region. Islamabad has pulled up Kabul for encouraging activities inimical to it. This is the pot calling the kettle black.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recent visit to Kabul has cleared the way to set the record straight with Pakistan on Afghanistan. The two could discuss how to cooperate rather than conflict in Afghanistan as they do in other multilateral fora, especially in UN peacekeeping.
Islamabad has fought the war on terrorism selectively despite periodic goading by the US to go after the Afghan Taliban in North Waziristan. Pakistan has told the US it does not have the resources since its forces are already overstretched.
According to the Australian Pakistan-Army specialist Col Brian Cloughley, It is neither the lack of capability nor intention but the fear that further depletion of troops from east to west will critically unbalance Pakistan Army facing India, which is enemy no 1. In 2008 Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani briefed the Pakistan Parliament, the first time the Army had done so, on the scale and scope of counterinsurgency operations in Swat and Malakand divisions. The ownership of military operations appears settled and rests with the civilian government.
Troops were first relocated from the east to west after 9/11 in the wake of the US-led war in Afghanistan. Pakistan has two corps located astride the undemarcated Durand Line, one each at Quetta and Peshawar. Along with regulars, nearly 1,50,000 local militia are deployed. According to the Indian Army, Pakistan had redeployed almost three divisions of its forces from the Indian to the Afghan border. At one stage, the assessment was that nearly 52% of its strike forces and 48% of the defensive elements had been relocated.
Last year, testifying before Congress, outgoing defence secretary Robert Gates lauded Pakistan Army for its operations in South Waziristan, saying that nearly six divisions had been transferred from the east to west. In 2010, the former corps commander of 11 Corps in Peshawar, Lt Gen Masood Aslam, now ambassador in Mexico, indicated that five divisions, 25 brigades and 88 infantry battalions were deployed under his command. Altogether these constituted 122 fighting units which included 15 artillery regiments in infantry role and 55 Frontier Corps battalions. For an area as vast and rugged as the seven tribal areas of Fata, troops would always be insufficient.
Gen Kayani has other worries if he thins out further from the Indian border. Not the least is the Cold Start doctrine which has reportedly rectified the sluggish onemonth long mobilisation of Operation Parakram following the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. Incidentally, the Army chief, Gen V K Singh, has disowned Cold Start, saying it is a creation of think-tanks and not an official doctrine.
India's reaction to the Mumbai attack was not surprisingly measured without initiating any military response. In subsequent months, following the suspension of the composite dialogue, India took a number of steps to strengthen coastal defence and intelligence capacities. On January 4, 2009, Air Marshal K D Singh of South West Air Command said at a public lecture that if Pakistan were to repeat a mass-casualty Mumbai-like attack, India's reaction could be a short and intense war. Home minister P Chidambaram has been warning Pakistan periodically "not to play any more games" and let Mumbai be the last such game. "If they carry out another attack, we will also retaliate with the force of a sledgehammer".
Notwithstanding the shrill but unworkable demand that India do an operation Osama to pluck Hafez Saeed or Dawood Ibrahim, it is clear that India has neither the political will nor the capacity for surgical operations inside Pakistan. Instead, let New Delhi settle for the more realistic objective of permitting Pakistan Army to redeploy more forces from the east to west to fight the Taliban with an assurance from India that it would not militarily exploit the strategic void.
Gates said recently that he was surprised that Gen Kayani had moved 1,40,000 troops from the east to west. That says something about India's strategic restraint.
(The author is founding member of Defence Planning Staff)









 Last week I kicked up a furore when, tripping over adjectives to describe just how good a superhero movie Matthew Vaughn's new X-Men: First Class is, I attempted to put things into perspective with a little blasphemy. Sticking my neck out, I compared it to a very different superhero film, but one currently considered the best superhero movie: I called the new film better than Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and I have since been guillotined. Here, then, is even more perspective. (Bring on the pitchforks and call me Frankensen.)
    Look, I genuinely rather loved The Dark Knight. It's a tremendously entertaining film about the greatest, most gloriously insane villain in mainstream comicdom, and is creepy and shadowy and undeniably very, very cool. It is not, however, a masterpiece. While not Nolan's best film (that honour goes to The Prestige) TDK fails on a few fundamental levels as a superhero movie.

    First off, it's an action movie with poorly filmed action. Nolan has always had a problem with keeping action choreography coherent, and while TDK has some stellar action moments – the first scenes leading into the bank job, and that iconic, shot when the Batcycle lassoes the truck – the rest of the action scenes, even those immediately following and leading upto these rare moments of perfect stunt synchronicity, are muddled and overstay their welcome. Admit it.

    Christian Bale, a very fine actor, is almost wasted in this restrictively charmless version of The Knight With A Bad Cold. Or Batman Dinanath Chauhan. It's all very well to keep the hero no-nonsense and ice-cold, but Nolan's Batman is often the least interesting part of his films. the scenes where he broods by himself, or where he speaks to Michael Caine's Alfred the butler, are times when the film lags considerably. I know I'm not the only one who skips them to get to more of The Heath Ledger Show.

    Ledger, of course, god bless his soul, is freakin' incredible. The Joker is a supervillain par compare, and Heath is frighteningly good in the part. However, the film gives itself up to him completely, surrendering its narrative to one central performance in the way that Hindi films often do to a big star. This is an approach that works for The Dark Knight, just as it does for Scarface, ruled by the ruthless appeal ofTony Montana, and, in a very different way, Dabanng, where all that matters is an actor's moustached swagger.
    Like I said, it works, sure, but The Dark Knight isn't a superhero movie anymore. It's very impressively cool, but it is a one-person show: and that person isn't even your superhero. It doesn't stay true to the spirit of the comics, no, not even the ones by Frank Miller.
    We allow the action sequences – and the boring bits with Maggie Gyllenhaal, and the occasionally rambling sluggishness in pace – simply because of how sexy the Joker's unpredictable lunacy is, especially in contrast with Batman's gruff straightlacedness. Sure, there are layers of good and evil and an overwhelming greyness that blurs the line quite astonishingly well, giving us a product that, to a very large extent, transcends not just its genre but also Batman – yet don't call it flawless. Say the flaws don't matter to your enjoyment of the film and I'll high-five you in complete Jokerlovin' agreement, but don't pretend they don't exist.
    In the best superhero films, they don't. The best of the best just soar up, up and away.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Let us not get bogged down in the dreary details of what the Economist rightly calls the "farce" into which Baba Ramdev's "fast unto death" against black money and corruption turned. After being shifted to Hardwar, the tragicomedy has come to a halt with the end of the fast. The yoga guru's threat to continue his satyagraha has yet to unfold itself. However, hitherto the bumbling and bungling government has done itself huge damage. The blame for this rests squarely on the Congress that, since the ignominious collapse of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Ms Mamata Banerjee's triumphant march from Delhi to Writers' Building in Kolkata, has been running the show in Delhi. A few pertinent points about the sordid goings-on need to be made, nevertheless. First, the Congress is evidently unable to comprehend that people's anger against corruption is so intense that even when someone with dubious credentials takes up this issue, it is bound to evoke massive popular support. This failure is aggravated by the party's demonstrably false claim of having acted against graft and venality more vigorously than any other party at any time. If so, why was former telecom minister A. Raja protected and pampered for over two years before being asked to resign and later imprisoned? Also, would the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate have arrested Hasan Ali, who had been strutting around freely for over three years, without the higher judiciary's stern directions? Secondly, nothing could have been more bizarre than the four senior ministers first trotting to the airport to placate Baba Ramdev and then, in sheer panic, deciding to crack down savagely on Ramdev's followers sleeping peacefully. Ironically, this brutality — now under the Supreme Court's scanner — was unleashed at a time when the Baba's agitation was losing steam. Home minister Mr P. Chidambaram's and the human resources development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal's belated, arrogant and threatening defence of the outrage has compounded the original sin. Particularly unbecoming is the home minister's attempt to shift the blame to the Delhi police. Thirdly, mini-Machiavellis of the Congress had planned to "drive a wedge" between Baba Ramdev and the more credible civil society leader, Anna Hazare, to whom the government had earlier surrendered over the Lokpal Bill. This has boomeranged, as witnessed in graphic detail. Now Mr Hazare has announced that he would again go on an indefinite fast on August 16 if the Lokpal Bill were not passed by then. Fourthly, when driven to a tight corner, the Congress did what it does whenever in trouble. It converted the corruption issue into a no-holds-barred verbal war with the Bharatiya Janata Party and the head of the Sangh Parivar, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Digvijay Singh, is in the lead in the vituperative campaign. There never was any doubt about the RSS' total support to Baba Ramdev. That can surely be used to discredit him. But can that lend legitimacy to the scourge of corruption and black money? Meanwhile, Mr Hazare has protested strongly against the Congress' attempt to tar him, too, with the RSS brush. Fifthly, finally and most importantly the repeated swing from one folly to another in recent days has brought out in bold relief a debilitating disease that has been afflicting the core of the ruling coalition for some years: the astonishing lack of synergy between the Congress Party and its own government. The messy drama had begun with four ministers, headed by the most senior of them — Mr Pranab Mukherjee — going to Indira Gandhi International Airport to pay court to the Baba, moved to cordial conversations between his aides and ministers over coffee in a five-star hotel, and ended with the brutal midnight swoop at Ramlila Grounds. At every stage of the melancholy sequence, there was a chorus by several Congress leaders to the effect that the party "had nothing to do with this. It is a matter for the government". Mr Digvijay Singh called on Mr Mukherjee to "protest" against the ministerial team going to the airport to receive the Baba. To which the finance minister's reported reply was that he had to go because the Prime Minister wanted him to explain to the yoga guru what the government was doing about black money! According to published reports, denied by no one, at a meeting at her residence at which the Prime Minister was not present, Congress president Sonia Gandhi expressed her displeasure over the whole affair. In any case, she hasn't said a word in defence of governmental actions. This is not an aberration but part of a well-established pattern which brings me to my main point. It is that the present ruling dispensation inaugurated in 2004, when Mrs Gandhi wisely decided not to accept the office of Prime Minister and assign it to Dr Manmohan Singh, seemed at that time both attractive and promising. The general expectation was that while ultimate power would surely reside at 10 Janpath, not at 7 Race Course Road, she would concentrate on building up the party and Dr Singh would be left free to lead the government, as every Prime Minister must. Sadly, these expectations have been belied. The Congress president and the Prime Minister do have high mutual regard. But that's about all. At no time has Mrs Gandhi done anything to discipline those in the party and even within the higher echelons of the Cabinet that have tried, with distressing frequency, to undermine the Prime Minister's authority. For his part, Dr Singh has asserted himself only once — over the Indo-US nuclear deal — to great effect. Why hasn't he done so ever again or exercised the option to quit remains a mystery. No wonder a stage has been reached when a respected commentator has described the ruling trinity as "the Queen Mother, her dewan and the little prince". In the latest bout of verbal warfare, the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mr Arun Jaitley, called the government a "headless chicken", adding: "The Prime Minister is only a chief executive officer; the owner of the company is someone else". Quite clearly, the diarchy established seven years ago has outlived its utility. Unless it is either mended or ended immediately, it would outlive its futility, too.






The Arab Spring is inching its way into Saudi Arabia — in the cars of fully veiled drivers. On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organise a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom's ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17. The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women's unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful "street-walker" or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel. Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similar draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that "women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden". The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their "proper place". Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men. This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Quran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of Prophet Mohammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn't they drive cars today? Which Quranic injunction prohibits them from driving? Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely. That is why the women defying the ban on motorised mobility are, in fact, demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country. These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across West Asia and North Africa, the Saudi women's campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region. It may require decades to see an end to West Asia's gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable. The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernising force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism. Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across West Asia, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.







With news about yet another possible scandal, this time dealing with oil leases, buffeting the United Progressive Alliance-2 government, it may be difficult for the country's policymakers to focus on the upcoming US-India strategic dialogue scheduled for late next month. Indeed if the current disarray persists, the meeting scheduled in Washington, D.C. may lead, at best, to the usual recitation of a litany of mutual concerns. At worst, the Indian side may not even be able to cobble together such a ritualistic incantation. Aside from the exigencies that the relationship currently confronts, the dialogue may well be facing some structural problems that need to be forthrightly addressed. Bluntly stated, some key policymakers in the United States are beginning to express private doubts about whether or not India really wants to pursue a viable strategic partnership. These doubts have arisen because of a number of recent developments in both multilateral and bilateral contexts. Many observers of the relationship are probably well aware of these infelicitous events and turning points. However, for the benefit of others it may be useful to highlight some of them. At least three of them should be underscored. The first, of course, was the decision of Parliament to pass such draconian nuclear liability legislation that it all but deterred most American firms from wanting to invest in the Indian civilian nuclear energy industry. Most, though not all, Indian analysts have been ready to dismiss the concerns of American firms and have suggested that similar, if not better technological investments can be obtained from other nations, notably France. However, this analysis sorely misses the point. The George W. Bush and the Obama administrations both expended significant political capital to cajole and prod a reluctant Congress to pass the enabling legislation to consummate the civilian nuclear energy agreement. They also persuaded key recalcitrant members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group to allow the deal to proceed apace. Having spent so much political and diplomatic capital it was entirely reasonable for the United States to expect that its companies might have a fair chance of competing in the Indian market. The legislation, in its present form, all but ensures that they will not be entering the fray anytime soon. At a time when the US economy still remains in the doldrums it is hardly unreasonable for US legislators to have expected a more welcoming attitude from India. Sadly, few influential individuals in the Indian political arena are either cognisant of their frustration, or, worse still, even care about these bruised sentiments. This lack of reciprocity was bad enough. However, India's decision to abstain at the UNSC on the vote authorising the use of force against Libya caused further heartburn. In fact, it again resurrected memories of a time when India could be fairly well counted upon to vote against the United States. Such votes, mostly cast during the Cold War years, had the effect of dramatically alienating US legislators. Today, however, India's policymakers cannot afford to be so cavalier. Finally, there is the still simmering resentment over India's decision to overlook the two American contenders for the Medium Multiple Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). It is entirely possible, and indeed quite likely, that the decision was made purely on technical grounds. To that extent, the expectations of the process that the defence ministry had outlined were honoured. Technical specifications alone, for once, should not have been the critical basis for selecting this aircraft. Instead a decision in favour of the American aerospace firms could have served as a useful strategic signal to the United States that India was willing to put the relationship on a wholly new level. Indian commentators and policymakers have been quick to assert that the US has been the beneficiary of other significant defence contracts. That argument, however, misses the point. The symbolic significance of this potential contract was not lost on anyone. Against this backdrop of a series of disappointments Indian policymakers continue to express frustration with the United States on a range of issues extending from greater access to H-1B visas to a lack of American pressure on Pakistan to rein in its continuing support for terror in Kashmir and elsewhere. These complaints, many of which are quite legitimate, are unlikely to gain a sympathetic hearing in Washington, D.C. anytime soon. The obvious lack of reciprocity that India has demonstrated in the recent past has made it difficult even for those who are sympathetically inclined to make a case on its behalf. Obviously, those who have long harboured an animus towards the country have simply found more reasons to bolster their existing prejudices. The domestic distractions that policymakers face at home are real and compelling. However, unless India's delegates to the next round of the strategic dialogue can proffer some imaginative and concrete suggestions for placing this partnership on a more secure footing the reasons for continuing the partnership may prove to be mostly chimerical. * Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington






Among some of the new things that one experiences in the green hinterland during early morning walk is the chirping and twittering of birds in the bushes and trees. Varieties of birds have distinctive sounds such as chirping, twittering, whistling and some, of course, simply singing away. Listening carefully to these birds a little after 5 am can be described as an "out of the world" experience. Pleasantly surprised, I began wondering what these birds were chirping about. And particularly this so-called "Malabar whistling-thrush" — who was it singing for? Or indeed who was it singing to? Suddenly I was reminded of Sr Anjali — the nun who used to take religious education classes in our early school years. "Do you know why hens look up to the sky soon after sipping a few drops of water?" she used to ask us. "The hens look up to express their gratitude to God for giving them those drops of water", would be her explanation. "And why does a squirrel have three stripes on its back" she would quiz, being sure that none of us would have a clue. "Those are the marks of the three fingers of, 'the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit', placed there to protect it from harm," would be her next surprise for us. Those were some creative ways of bringing the presence and consciousness of God into our innocent lives and thus laying a foundation for some form of spirituality to later build our lives on. Sr Anjali, who was from Kerala, could not take us through the experience of singing birds, as one only saw some sparrows around our houses in Rajasthan those days. It is probably from that little learning that I imagined who the "Malabar whistling-thrush" must be singing to. My heart made me believe that at the crack of dawn, well before the first rays of the sun could peep out of the clouds, the thrush, like all other birds, must be busy singing praises of God. While extremely pleased with myself for sighting the singing thrush and being engrossed in watching it produce those musical notes, I was brought down to the ground by the horn of a milk van. That brought me to the plane of our everyday life, so different from the seemingly carefree lives of those birds. But are birds really carefree? No! Those moments are for God, to praise and to thank Him for the new day. — Father Dominic Emmanuel, a founder-member of Parliament of Religions, is currently the director of communication of the Delhi Catholic Church. He was awarded the National Communal Harmony Award 2008 by the government of India. He can be contacted at











CORRUPTION dominates the national agenda. Not everyone might accept the Prime Minister's line that "the government is serious and we are concerned about corruption and black money"; yet there can be no disputing Dr Manmohan Singh's contention, "but there is no magic wand". In that context it is astounding, indeed dismaying, to note that the key anti-corruption agency is grossly understaffed. Official data from the Central Bureau of Investigation reveals a shortage of 915 executive officers ~ including those of special directors, joint directors and deputy inspectors-general of police and subordinate staff. That apart, there is a dearth of technical personnel: more than critical in this age of cyber crime, and when the ubiquitous computer can help trace the movement of dirty money. That too when demands for CBI probes come from all across the country very frequently, and the courts order them at random.

  Does that shortage not testify to a mismatch between what the government says and what it does? Given the politically supercharged atmosphere that now prevails the UPA leadership could well point to the shortages having a "history", that vacancies existed during NDA rule too. But that argument would have political value only, Manmohan Singh & Co. have had enough time in the gaddi to address the situation. That they have not done so, at least not very effectively, lends itself to the political counter-punch that the UPA has been soft on corruption in high places. No need to speculate why. Add to that the sad reality that the agency has no genuine independence, it functions in accordance with political diktat, and it becomes apparent when the nation is now in such ferment over corruption.

Additionally, the CBI has registered so many recent goof-ups.    It is true that the CBI is not under the administrative control of the home ministry ~ as it was originally. But since its personnel are almost entirely drawn from police organisations the issue under focus cannot be seen in isolation from the larger malaise of neglect and misuse that plagues all police forces. The post 26/11 upgrade trumpeted by the home minister remains limited to the anti-terror NSG: the others are still way behind the times, ill-equipped for the role required of them. And if the agencies under the Centre are floundering, little need be said of what obtains in the states. Even as he yearns for a magic wand the Prime Minister ignores the not terribly difficult job of giving the CBI a bit more bite.



A SOCIAL club is a private institution, which reserves the right to impose its dress code for members and their guests. And there can be no quarrel with its rules and regulations. However, in the manner of a section of Trinamul leaders, artist Shuvaprasanna ~ close to the party ~ opted for street theatre on Monday when he demonstrated outside the club with a large band of supporters. The facts are barely stated. Shuvaprasanna was denied admission to a party at the Calcutta Club on 8 June for turning up in his customary kurta and pyjama ~ a strict no-no for the club! He had flouted the dress code and he ought to have left graciously when told about the violation. That said, the rules are also explicit that the host/member must ensure that the guests abide by the dress code. Whoever hosted the party ought to have counselled the artist in advance. By that token, the hosts ~ even if among the club's self-appointed VIPs ~ cannot evade responsibility for the fracas.
Given his political clout, Shuvaprasanna has reacted with greater indignation than he is entitled to by first yelling and then making a public issue of a club's internal affairs. The incident recalls Maqbool Fida Husain being denied entry to the same club for walking in bare foot. And the United Front's Forward Bloc (Marxist) minister, Ram Chatterjee, and his cadres from Chandannagar plunging into the Calcutta Swimming Club's pool... merely as an act of defiance.

Historically, Shuvaprasanna may not be off the mark when he refers to the Calcutta Club as a colonial relic and the dress code as a hangover of British India. Equally, is it true that one has to visit one of three places to hear elegant Bengali ~ Kalighater Kalibari, Calcutta High Court and Calcutta Club. From Nandigram to the club code, the perceived intellectuals ~ a loosely used term ~ can take to the streets on just about any issue. There is no scope for publicity mileage with a public demonstration over a matter that relates to the private domain. In parallel, the club committee needs to sufficiently tutor its members, who bring in guests, on the rules of engagement.



"PUNJAB Mail" shouts the bingo-caller, the game's devotees scratch out the '5' on their cards. Such is the fame of the train now entering the 100th year of service ~ a record on the broad-gauge system ~ though after computerisation a four-digit number-identification ordains. Initially it operated from the Ballard Pier Mole station in Bombay to Peshawar, sahibs disembarking the ship from "blighty" had just a short walk to the train taking them "up country". After 1947 it has terminated at Ferozepur, starting off from Victoria Terminus (now CST) in the heart of Mumbai.  The Punjab Limited, as it was first known, has a shared history with the Frontier Mail, 16 years its junior. The former was operated by the Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) railway and took the Itarsi-Agra route to Delhi and further north-west; the latter was run by the Bombay, Baroda & Central India (BB&CI) railway and took the Surat-Ratlam route. The younger train now runs from Mumbai Central to Amristar. There was much rivalry, both exuded the ultimate in railway luxury and really "showed off" as they steamed into the Capital ~ the loco-sheds at Jhansi (GIP) and Gangapur (BBCI) ensured only their most efficient and ornate engines "worked" the mails. Since there is almost a year to go for the "century" to be completed, there is adequate time to prepare for the historic event.

Despite more modern and faster Shatabdi and Rajdhanis, many of the older trains retain allure: the Howrah-Kalka Mail, Grand Trunk Express (GT), Deccan Queen, Flying Ranee to name some. They too will soon be approaching milestones in history, and since "heritage" has now come into its own the Railway Ministry must work hard to accord them due recognition ~ rather than only "recognise" the state from where its minister hails. Sadly the Frontier Mail will never attain century status ~ since 1996 it has, officially, ceased to exist. In a sick instance of how history was ravished at the altar of populism it was renamed the Golden Temple Mail ~ though the community that worships at Amritsar's sacred shrine made no such demand. It sought a train named after the gurudwara:  the minister of the day took the easy way out. Yet even now it is still popularly called "Frontier". History is difficult to rewrite, its errors can be rectified. The Frontier-tag can be re-attached, a spanking new "Golden Temple Mail" introduced.









CORPORAL punishment is as old as education itself. It has traditionally been resorted to by teachers as a way

of forcing the children to conform to certain pre-conceived notions of behaviour. The rationale is that such punishment can have a deterrent effect; according to conventional wisdom, children subjected to such punishment are less likely to repeat the mistakes committed.
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that corporal punishment is grossly ineffective as a method to impose discipline. However, such punishment, verging on the physical, continues almost all over the world. It has been legally banned in only 29 countries.
Indeed, protests against corporal punishment began towards the end of the 19th century. Child psychologists pointed out that far from acting as a deterrent, it might create behavioural problems among children, both at home and school. As early as 1891, Robert Green Ingersoll published a hard-hitting reply to the Dean of St Paul's article in North American Review, where the Dean advocated the use of the ferrule to discipline students and keep them away from deviant behaviour. The Dean argued that "to be flogged developed character, self-reliance, courage, contempt of pain and the highest heroism".
Ingersoll replied that in that case, children will grow up without character, courage or self-reliance. He also mentioned the potential harm corporal punishment can cause to the teacher. "Think of being fed and clothed by the children you had whipped ~ whose flesh you had scarred! Think of feeling in the hour of death your withered lips, your withered cheeks, the kisses and tears of whom you had beaten ~ upon whose flesh were still the marks of your lash!"
Clearly, the psychological impact of punishment on the teacher or principal is no less harmful. Data collected by educational psychologists in the last century confirms that corporal punishment generally fails to attain the desired objective of the educator. Ironically enough, it can have a debilitating effect, one that can harm the child psychologically. No wonder, a ten-year-old child commits suicide after being punished physically or mentally tortured and humiliated in school.
The Indian scenario is alarming, to say the least. Despite the fact that the National Policy of Education (1986, revised in 1992) severely condemned the practice of corporal punishment, only 17 states and Union Territories have legally banned such action in schools. Even the much-touted Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, prohibits corporal punishment in categorical terms. It states: "No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment... Whoever contravenes the provisions shall be liable to disciplinary action under the service rules applicable to such persons".
Arguably, the weakness of any legislation against corporal punishment is rooted in the  complexity of legal processes and applications which may be used against the offender. In most cases, the offenders go scot-free, exploiting the loopholes in the rules and laws. Surprisingly, school children have little legal protection even under the Indian Penal Code (1860, with amendments) and the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act, 2000.
The fact is that corporal punishment cannot be curbed, let alone abolished, by penal measures and provisions against teachers, just as children cannot be rectified through punishment. What is urgently required is a national exercise to assess and judge why teachers resort to corporal punishment and mental harassment of children, knowing well  that such measures are not only decidedly cruel but even counter-productive.
In a study sponsored by UNICEF titled "Attitudes Study on Elementary Education in India: A Consolidated Report, 1996", researchers came across disturbing statistics. An estimated 66 per cent of children in Maharashtra were regularly punished in schools and the corresponding figure in Tamil Nadu was as high as 87 per cent, cutting across rural and urban divides. And most of the teachers were aware of the fact that corporal punishment is ineffective. Is the idea only to inflict pain?
If corporal punishment has to be curbed, teachers across the country need  to be counselled psychologically. I had once conducted a study to assess as to why a teacher resorts to corporal punishment in spite of being aware that it is an exercise in futility. An overwhelming 84 per cent of the teachers admitted that they expressed their personal or/and professional frustration by inflicting  corporal punishment. Is it a way to bare one's angst over personal problems? In most cases, the underlying problems were: financial and  marital complications, frustration over the attitude of the school management and colleagues, pressure of work, usually in the form of consecutive classes without break. Those teachers who face any or all these problems will in all likelihood become offensive in the classroom at the slightest provocation by  children.
Regrettably, governments at the Centre or in the states have done little to convince guardians that teachers are primarily social beings, exposed to stress and work pressure, just as other professionals are. The net result is the harm caused to children. While government intervention in education has been limited to pedagogic research and development in independent India, nothing has been done to support and help the teachers psychologically. Such support will call for planning and resources, both human and financial. We can hardly ignore the problems if  classrooms are to be safe for our children.
The writer is an Assistant Professor of English, Raiganj BEd College, Uttar Dinajpur,
West Bengal






On Monday, Tamil Nadu chief minister Miss Jayalalithaa visited Delhi. She met her Delhi counterpart Mrs Sheila Dikshit. India's biggest TV channel blared: "Will Jaya also meet Sonia?" Was the channel unprofessionally ignorant or was it colluding with the exercise to hide the furtive movements of Mrs Sonia Gandhi? Earlier on the same day, there was a statement issued by Mrs Gandhi deploring the murder of a prominent journalist in Mumbai. Was all this being done to create the illusion in the public mind that Mrs Gandhi was in India while she was not? This is not the first time that Mrs Gandhi has silently gone abroad in a manner best described as being furtive. Why the secrecy? What is the purpose of Mrs Gandhi's undisclosed visits abroad?
An RTI applicant, Mr Ramesh Verma, had sought from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) details of the foreign visits of the Chairperson of the National Advisory Council (NAC) and Congress president Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The Central Information Commission (CIC) forwarded the application to the PMO. "It seems the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry had informed that the Central government had incurred no expenditure on the foreign visits Sonia Gandhi during the last 10 years," CIC commissioner Mr Satyananda Mishra has stated. The application to the PMO was received on 26 February, 2010, transferred to the external affairs ministry on 16 March, 2010 and then forwarded to the Parliamentary Affairs Ministry on 26 March, 2010. However, it was not known by the Cabinet secretariat whether the RTI applicant had been provided with the information that was sought. The CIC commissioner criticised the PMO for its casual approach. The PMO did not obtain the information from the appropriate ministry after the query was specifically directed to it.
Congress leaders are frothing at the mouth demanding total transparency from members of civil society. Probes have been launched against some of them. Should not the government display equal transparency pertaining to India's most powerful politician who is the chairperson of the ruling UPA coalition as well as the chairperson of the government's NAC? They need to answer the following questions:
Did Mrs Gandhi travel abroad on an airline or by a private jet? If the latter, whose jet was it?
What was the purpose of the foreign visit made by the Chairperson of the NAC and the UPA?
What is the itinerary of the NAC Chairperson? Which countries and cities did she, or will she, visit?
And while they are at it, our worthy Congress leaders may as well also address these ancient and perennial questions:
Why does not the government refute the allegation made by a former member of the Soviet government's official KGB Commission, confirmed by the official spokesman of the Russian government addressing the media, that the KGB had been donating funds to Mrs. Sonia Gandhi's family, including her mother, since 1971? Why does the government not demand an apology from the author of the allegation and failing its receipt launch a defamation case against the author and the Russian government?
Why do the government and the Congress party not explain the purpose of the meeting between accused money launderer Hasan Ali and the political secretary of the Congress president, Mr Ahmed Patel, that was investigated and confirmed by Maharashtra police?
The public awaits from Congress leaders Mr Pranab Mukherjee, Mr Digvijay Singh, Mr Kapil Sibal, Mr Chidambaram and the rest, answers to these questions. Transparency, like charity, should begin at home.   
The writer is a veteran journalist
and cartoonist 





Recently available data has confirmed the tremendous scope that exists in our country for reducing the infant mortality rate (IMR). According to the latest Sample Registration Survey data (2009) which covered 15 lakh households, infant mortality rates remain extremely high in some of the largest states of India ~ 63 per 1,000 live births in Uttar Pradesh, 67 in Madhya Pradesh, 65 in Orissa, 61 in Assam and 59 in Rajasthan.
If we compare such high IMR with what has been achieved in a part of our own country then it becomes clear that a great potential exists for reduction of infant mortality. Kerala has already been able to reduce its IMR to as low as 12 per 1,000 live births. In other words, if states such as Uttar Pradesh and others mentioned above with IMR in the range of 59-67 can bring down their IMR to the level of Kerala, this will mean that four out of five Indian infants can be saved. If we compare Kerala's record, not with the worst performing states but with the national average, even then the potential is huge. If India brings down its current IMR of 50 to 12, three out of four infant deaths can be prevented.
Data for the last decade indicates that even though conditions were far from ideal, lending adequate stress on the objectives of reducing infant mortality enabled some states to achieve good results. Even at the national level, the performance as a whole was praiseworthy as India was able to achieve a reduction of 29 per cent in IMR with above average contributions from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Orissa. But recent as well as earlier data on infant and child mortality have also thrown up several questions which have not been answered satisfactorily. It is not very clear exactly how some states have achieved reasonably good results while others have not. Even some experts have questioned the recorded decline in mortality.
There is, therefore, a need for more intensive, transparent and participatory research in villages with independent experts involved in it. The results of the research should be placed before village communities for verification and also for obtaining their views. If well-verified success is achieved, the factors behind this success should be properly understood. If failures have been recorded, lessons should be learnt.
Such intensive, transparent and participatory research should form the basis of a national campaign to reduce child and infant mortality. This campaign should bring together the Centre and state governments, panchayat raj institutions, voluntary organisations, United Nation agencies, independent experts and professional bodies so that the support of all can be achieved by discounting bias or vested interests.
There cannot be any greater source of distress than the death of a small child. India's tradition places a lot of value on reducing such distress, but somehow, such traditional strengths have not been harnessed yet for reduction of infant and child mortality. If our traditional values are strengthened by access to modern medical technology and methods, participation of people is ensured and vested interests defeated, very good results can be achieved in a reasonably short time.
This objective of reducing infant and child mortality should be linked to the other priority aim of reducing maternal mortality. To a large extent, the tasks of reducing infant and maternal mortality go hand in hand. The health of the mother is closely linked to the health of the infant. Therefore, the closely linked objectives of reducing infant/child mortality and reducing maternal mortality should be promoted together as part of a national campaign to improve the quality of life of Indians.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi ***************************************




What is the connection between Hong Kong, Yangon, Singapore, Penang, Surabaya, Calcutta and Shell Oil?   Answer: the Armenian connection.   In fact, there are Armenian Streets in Singapore, Penang, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Dhaka. An odd fact of history is that three Armenian churches have been built on No. 2, Armenian Street ~ in Calcutta, Dhaka and Chennai. Is that a coincidence?
My thought for today was inspired by my good friend Bernard Chan's reference to Hong Kong street names, particularly Chater Road. Having worked in Chater House, I had not realised that Sir Catchick Paul Chater was born of Armenian parents in Calcutta in 1846 and became a successful businessman in Hong Kong, having co-founded Hongkong Land with the Keswicks and also a steward at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  Armenians are probably the largest diaspora in the world in relative terms, with 11 million Armenians compared with 3 million in Armenia, compared with 13 million Jewish population worldwide, of which 5.7 million reside in Israel.
Armenians in the Far East came via India, mostly as merchants, the most famous being Thomas Cana, a rich merchant arriving in Kerala in 780 AD.   The earliest reference to an Armenian in the Far East is the gravestone of Jacob Shameer in Malacca, born in New Julfa, Isfahan, Persia who died 3 January, 1746.   In the 17th and 18th century, Armenians were already important traders of Indian goods for the Russian and Italian markets. Based from their foothold of Surat in India, they began the China trade, noting in 1783 that they lost lots of money in a ship from China because of the Anglo-French war.  In 1797, there is a letter describing Armenian trading from Madras to Penang, but sailing to Malacca, where the traders were attacked by three French frigates and lost all their possessions.   But they lived to trade another day.
There is no doubt that Armenian entrepreneurs played an important mercantile role in British colonial history in the Far East.   Singapore was founded by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1819.   By 1835, the small Armenian community in Singapore had grown prosperous enough to build the Armenian Church of Saint Gregory, the second Christian church to be built in Singapore.  Anyone who has travelled in the Far East would have stayed in the chain of hotels that the Armenian Sarkies brothers (Martin, Arshak, Aviet and Tigran) founded in the key commercial cities ~ the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang (1885), the Strand Hotel in Yangon (1896), the Raffles Hotel (1899) and Majapahit Hotel in Surabaya (1910).    At one time, the Sarkies family also owned the Adelphi Hotel in Singapore.  
In addition to the church and Raffles Hotel, the Armenian contribution to Singapore included the founding of the newspaper, Straits Times by Catchick Moses in 1845 and the orchid Vanda Miss Joaquim, named after Agnes Joaquim, which is today the national flower of Singapore.
The Royal Dutch Shell plc, today the second largest energy company in the world, was created in 1907 from the merger of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (1890) and the British Shell Transport and Trading Company, founded by the Samuel brothers in 1897. From its earliest days, the history of oil was dominated by global giants. Shell was formed mainly in the face of competition from the rise of the Rockefeller owned Standard Oil, which was broken up in 1911 and its successors became today's ExxonMobil, Chevron, Amoco and ConocoPhillips. Royal Dutch Shell made the first oil discovery in East Sumatra where production began in 1885.  
Few people realised that it was the Armenian oil trader Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) who arranged the merger between the two companies.  During his time, he was probably one of the wealthiest man in the world, starting   in the Russian oil industry and being one of the first to explore oil in Iraq, then part of the Ottoman empire, through the consortium Turkish Petroleum Company.   Even though he was reputedly offered sole ownership of the Iraqi oil concession, he believed in partnership with those European companies which had the ability and capacity to develop the oil fields.   He was famous for being Mr. Five Percent, retaining five percent of all his deals, which included the Shell merger.  
Most people remember him for the Museum Gulbenkian in Lisbon, which houses his wonderful collection of art.   The Museum is a treasure house full of choice pieces from the whole range of art from Mesopotamia, Eastern Islamic and a stunning collection of Lalique crystal pieces. Fans of modern Lalique should go to Lisbon just to see what was possible when the artist Rene Lalique (1860-1945) was at the height of his creative powers.   There is a whole room in the Gulbenkian museum dedicated to his glass and jewellery pieces that are a must to visit when you go to Lisbon.    
When you realise that such a small community of immigrants from a small country in West Asia can make such a footprint in history in the rest of Asia, you begin to understand the importance and opportunities of globalisation.  Globalisation is not about quantity, but the quality of interconnection between different parts of the world. Small communities of traders have made possible the trading of goods and services around the world, even in the days when communication was difficult.  Indeed, their foresight and ability to see opportunities and to create partnerships and mergers of new enterprise in new fields is their hallmark of success. These communities thrived on knowledge, research and innovation.
The footprints of Armenian traders and investors, past and present, suggest to us that talented people from small countries have a lot to offer the rest of the world.  It is no wonder that cities that welcomed and allowed these communities to flourish became themselves the centres of trading and commerce in Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore.

asia news network

Andrew Sheng is author of the book From Asian to Global Financial Crisis









What is the connection between Hong Kong, Yangon, Singapore, Penang, Surabaya, Calcutta and Shell Oil?   Answer: the Armenian connection.   In fact, there are Armenian Streets in Singapore, Penang, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Dhaka. An odd fact of history is that three Armenian churches have been built on No. 2, Armenian Street ~ in Calcutta, Dhaka and Chennai. Is that a coincidence?

My thought for today was inspired by my good friend Bernard Chan's reference to Hong Kong street names, particularly Chater Road. Having worked in Chater House, I had not realised that Sir Catchick Paul Chater was born of Armenian parents in Calcutta in 1846 and became a successful businessman in Hong Kong, having co-founded Hongkong Land with the Keswicks and also a steward at the Hong Kong Jockey Club.  Armenians are probably the largest diaspora in the world in relative terms, with 11 million Armenians compared with 3 million in Armenia, compared with 13 million Jewish population worldwide, of which 5.7 million reside in Israel.
Armenians in the Far East came via India, mostly as merchants, the most famous being Thomas Cana, a rich merchant arriving in Kerala in 780 AD.   The earliest reference to an Armenian in the Far East is the gravestone of Jacob Shameer in Malacca, born in New Julfa, Isfahan, Persia who died 3 January, 1746.   In the 17th and 18th century, Armenians were already important traders of Indian goods for the Russian and Italian markets. Based from their foothold of Surat in India, they began the China trade, noting in 1783 that they lost lots of money in a ship from China because of the Anglo-French war.  In 1797, there is a letter describing Armenian trading from Madras to Penang, but sailing to Malacca, where the traders were attacked by three French frigates and lost all their possessions.   But they lived to trade another day.

There is no doubt that Armenian entrepreneurs played an important mercantile role in British colonial history in the Far East.   Singapore was founded by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1819.   By 1835, the small Armenian community in Singapore had grown prosperous enough to build the Armenian Church of Saint Gregory, the second Christian church to be built in Singapore.  Anyone who has travelled in the Far East would have stayed in the chain of hotels that the Armenian Sarkies brothers (Martin, Arshak, Aviet and Tigran) founded in the key commercial cities ~ the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Penang (1885), the Strand Hotel in Yangon (1896), the Raffles Hotel (1899) and Majapahit Hotel in Surabaya (1910).    At one time, the Sarkies family also owned the Adelphi Hotel in Singapore.  

In addition to the church and Raffles Hotel, the Armenian contribution to Singapore included the founding of the newspaper, Straits Times by Catchick Moses in 1845 and the orchid Vanda Miss Joaquim, named after Agnes Joaquim, which is today the national flower of Singapore.

The Royal Dutch Shell plc, today the second largest energy company in the world, was created in 1907 from the merger of the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company (1890) and the British Shell Transport and Trading Company, founded by the Samuel brothers in 1897. From its earliest days, the history of oil was dominated by global giants. Shell was formed mainly in the face of competition from the rise of the Rockefeller owned Standard Oil, which was broken up in 1911 and its successors became today's ExxonMobil, Chevron, Amoco and ConocoPhillips. Royal Dutch Shell made the first oil discovery in East Sumatra where production began in 1885.  
Few people realised that it was the Armenian oil trader Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955) who arranged the merger between the two companies.  During his time, he was probably one of the wealthiest man in the world, starting   in the Russian oil industry and being one of the first to explore oil in Iraq, then part of the Ottoman empire, through the consortium Turkish Petroleum Company.   Even though he was reputedly offered sole ownership of the Iraqi oil concession, he believed in partnership with those European companies which had the ability and capacity to develop the oil fields.   He was famous for being Mr. Five Percent, retaining five percent of all his deals, which included the Shell merger.  

Most people remember him for the Museum Gulbenkian in Lisbon, which houses his wonderful collection of art.   The Museum is a treasure house full of choice pieces from the whole range of art from Mesopotamia, Eastern Islamic and a stunning collection of Lalique crystal pieces. Fans of modern Lalique should go to Lisbon just to see what was possible when the artist Rene Lalique (1860-1945) was at the height of his creative powers.   There is a whole room in the Gulbenkian museum dedicated to his glass and jewellery pieces that are a must to visit when you go to Lisbon.  

When you realise that such a small community of immigrants from a small country in West Asia can make such a footprint in history in the rest of Asia, you begin to understand the importance and opportunities of globalisation.  Globalisation is not about quantity, but the quality of interconnection between different parts of the world. Small communities of traders have made possible the trading of goods and services around the world, even in the days when communication was difficult.  Indeed, their foresight and ability to see opportunities and to create partnerships and mergers of new enterprise in new fields is their hallmark of success. These communities thrived on knowledge, research and innovation.

The footprints of Armenian traders and investors, past and present, suggest to us that talented people from small countries have a lot to offer the rest of the world.  It is no wonder that cities that welcomed and allowed these communities to flourish became themselves the centres of trading and commerce in Asia, especially Hong Kong and Singapore.

asia news network

Andrew Sheng is author of the book From Asian to Global Financial Crisis







The Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, was in Pakistan not merely to shake hands and make up. Yes, he had somewhat soured the growing friendship between the two countries by politely pointing out after the Abbottabad operation that the world should see Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, as the hub of terrorism. But such indiscretions are allowed in the game of politics, especially as great as the one being played in the region. Mr Karzai had his own agenda to pursue during the visit, and he made no secret of it. It was to ensure that Pakistan did not put a spanner in his painstaking efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. In February last year, this is exactly what Pakistan had done by handing over a pro-talks Taliban commander, Abdul Ghani Baradar, to the Central Intelligence Agency. Pakistan had no compunctions in admitting that it had facilitated the arrest to counter Afghanistan's attempts to sideline Pakistan in the political process in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai has since become more accommodating towards Pakistan's interests, if only because they tally with his own. His breach with the United States of America has widened, and the only way he can secure his political future is by forging his own alliances, both within the country and outside. Afghanistan's friendship with Pakistan would not only further the reconciliation process, but also promote the image of the peace process as being self-driven, given its possibility of limiting the role of the foreign allies.

There are some obvious pitfalls in Mr Karzai's plan which he chooses to ignore. One, Pakistan's cooperation is premised on India's exclusion from the political future of Afghanistan. This is a precondition that Mr Karzai is in no position to fulfil. His assurance to Pakistan that India's presence in Afghanistan cannot go against its interests cannot have made his hosts very happy. Two, he may be overestimating Pakistan's ability to bring the Taliban to the table and make them stay there. Pakistan's double game of nurturing the Taliban on the one hand and allowing US drones to kill them on the other has not made it very popular with the militants. The incessant attacks on Pakistani targets should make this clear. Besides, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan may find it expedient or possible to do without the Western allies. Mr Karzai has made a smart move, but it does not bring the great game to an end.




The Afghanistan president, Hamid Karzai, was in Pakistan not merely to shake hands and make up. Yes, he had somewhat soured the growing friendship between the two countries by politely pointing out after the Abbottabad operation that the world should see Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, as the hub of terrorism. But such indiscretions are allowed in the game of politics, especially as great as the one being played in the region. Mr Karzai had his own agenda to pursue during the visit, and he made no secret of it. It was to ensure that Pakistan did not put a spanner in his painstaking efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiation table. In February last year, this is exactly what Pakistan had done by handing over a pro-talks Taliban commander, Abdul Ghani Baradar, to the Central Intelligence Agency. Pakistan had no compunctions in admitting that it had facilitated the arrest to counter Afghanistan's attempts to sideline Pakistan in the political process in Afghanistan. Mr Karzai has since become more accommodating towards Pakistan's interests, if only because they tally with his own. His breach with the United States of America has widened, and the only way he can secure his political future is by forging his own alliances, both within the country and outside. Afghanistan's friendship with Pakistan would not only further the reconciliation process, but also promote the image of the peace process as being self-driven, given its possibility of limiting the role of the foreign allies.

There are some obvious pitfalls in Mr Karzai's plan which he chooses to ignore. One, Pakistan's cooperation is premised on India's exclusion from the political future of Afghanistan. This is a precondition that Mr Karzai is in no position to fulfil. His assurance to Pakistan that India's presence in Afghanistan cannot go against its interests cannot have made his hosts very happy. Two, he may be overestimating Pakistan's ability to bring the Taliban to the table and make them stay there. Pakistan's double game of nurturing the Taliban on the one hand and allowing US drones to kill them on the other has not made it very popular with the militants. The incessant attacks on Pakistani targets should make this clear. Besides, neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan may find it expedient or possible to do without the Western allies. Mr Karzai has made a smart move, but it does not bring the great game to an end.






On June 12, Ravi Shankar Ratnam helped Ram Krishna Yadav resume eating after Yadav had fasted for a week. This wouldn't have made the headlines of every Indian newspaper the next morning if it hadn't been for the fact that both men had achieved a state of demi-divinity through the tried-and-tested process of Hindu name-inflation. Ram Krishna Yadav became Swami Ramdev when he took sanyas and after his extraordinary success as a yoga teacher and crusading saint, he has morphed into Baba Ramdev. The man who handed him the fruit juice evolved from Ravi Shankar Ratnam into Pandit Ravi Shankar, but the possibility of brand-confusion led to a further name change and he became Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

It must say something about Indian politics that entrepreneurial holy men (Ramdev runs a yoga and ayurveda business and Ravi Shankar runs the Art of Living foundation) have become mascots of the movement against public corruption. The United Progressive Alliance government did its bit to help: it elevated the swami to cabinet rank by sending every cabinet minister in sight to the airport when the godman flew in, to cringe in person. But the government underestimated Ramdev's self-esteem: this rank of abject cabinet ministers confirmed him in his suspicion that he was the Hindu primate and the sight of the Ramlila Maidan teeming with the faithful tempted him into going ahead with the fast that he had promised to call off.

What happened afterwards is a useful guide to how politics is done in India. The police raided Ramlila Maidan after midnight and cleared it of people. Ramdev borrowed a salwar-kameez and tried to escape disguised as a woman but even a dupatta couldn't veil the bearded lady and he was taken into custody. He was banned from entering Delhi for a fortnight and taken to his ashram in Hardwar under police escort where he continued his fast.

The most obvious lesson to be learnt from the clearing of the Ramlila Maidan is that for the government of India, Delhi is the world. Having ejected Ramdev from Delhi, the government made no attempt to persuade him to end his fast. It was perfectly happy for him to starve himself to death so long as he did it off-stage, in the mofussil. Anna Hazare's brilliant use of the Jantar Mantar to publicize his hunger strike in aid of the lok pal bill, had so spooked the UPA government that it was willing to grovel in the morning to head off Ramdev's fast and use lathis that same night to disperse his audience. It was carrot-and-stick of the most literal and desperate kind. Anna Hazare has promised us another fast if the government doesn't pass the lok pal bill by August 15. If that fast happens, I'll be very surprised if the UPA government allows him a public space in Delhi to stage his protest.

Anna Hazare's reaction to the events at the Ramlila Maidan told us something about the politics of 'civil society' protest. It's no secret that Hazare and Ramdev are rivals for the leadership of the crusade against corruption. The raid on Ramlila Maidan, however, left Hazare with no option but to come to Ramdev's aid. He condemned the raid and came up with the most splendid non sequitur in the history of Indian activism: "There was no firing otherwise the eviction was similar to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre." True. One thousand six hundred and fifty rounds weren't fired. Three hundred and seventy-nine people did not die. A thousand and more people didn't suffer bullet wounds in this ruthless re-staging of Jallianwala Bagh. One could go on, but perhaps it's simpler to say that the Ramlila Maidan lathi charge is as similar to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as Anna Hazare is to Mahatma Gandhi.

The political question that confronts all of us, activists, politicians and citizens alike, is whether the virtue of being against corruption (instead of for it) is reason enough to ignore political differences to sustain the breadth and solidarity of the anti-corruption front. So should Swami Agnivesh and Prashant Bhushan, core members of Hazare's lok pal bill ginger group and stalwart pluralists, take issue with Hazare's stated admiration for Narendra Modi's governing style, his enthusiasm for capital (and corporal) punishment and his instinctively authoritarian leadership style or should they play down their differences with Anna Hazare on these issues in the larger interest of the anti-corruption struggle?

Acutely aware of the UPA government's bid to discredit them individually through smear campaigns, the core group has closed ranks. But as Ramdev and other mavericks climb aboard the bandwagon and lunge for the steering wheel, papering over ideological differences is getting harder and harder to do.

When Ramdev invited Sadhvi Ritambhara, one of the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case and arch-virago of the Hindu Right, to share the stage with him at Ramlila Maidan, he posed the question in the sharpest way possible. The response to this provocation from the lok pal civil society group hasn't been consistent. Prashant Bhushan said, "I am unhappy with the presence of Sadhvi Ritambhara. You cannot prevent anyone from supporting a cause but the platform should not be allowed to be used by communal forces." The judge, Santosh Hegde, a member like Prashant Bhushan of the lok pal bill drafting committee, expressed the opposite view. He had no problem with having Ritambhara on the dais: "So far as the presence of Sadhvi Ritambhara is concerned, she may be an accused in the Ayodhya case but we are not supporting that cause. We are supporting only the fight against corruption. If she wants to fight against corruption, I do not see why she should not be allowed to do that."

Hegde's position is the classic statement of the organizing principle of self-consciously apolitical, single-issue campaigns. If the cause is just and its supporters sincere, political differences shouldn't be allowed to fragment the solidarity of the campaign. Bhushan's discomfort hints at an alternative view: namely, there have to be some political or ideological red lines that the movement's leaders mustn't cross because those red lines represent non-negotiable political values. Implicit in Bhushan's discomfort is the sense that a populist anti-corruption campaign can be hijacked and hitched to disagreeable political agendas.

There is a real disagreement here. The resistance to the Emergency, for example, was politically eclectic. The Janata Party's necessary struggle against Congress authoritarianism in the election of 1977 involved the participation of the erstwhile Jan Sangh and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Is this much-touted crusade against corruption as significant as that earlier struggle for democracy and have its constituents subordinated their individual agendas for the sake of the larger cause?

Ramdev, for example, wants to hang people for a multitude of sins, he thinks homosexuals are sick people who need to be hospitalized, he wants to regulate sexuality amongst the young, he wants to build the Ram Mandir, he wants a total boycott of foreign companies and he has recently threatened to raise an armed militia of 11,000 youths. Is it enough for Kiran Bedi or Anna Hazare or individuals like you and me to distance themselves from these bizarre positions or does there come a point where you say, no, I can't endorse or support a movement that harbours dangerous oddballs and scary political outfits? And if you do the latter do you split the single-issue movement to keep it kosher or do you abandon apolitical single issue mobilization altogether and return to more complex political engagement?

Meanwhile, regardless of the fate of his fast, there's room for Ramdev to grow. In the self-aggrandizing stakes, Rajneesh went from Acharya to Bhagwan to Osho. Compared to him, the good Baba hasn't started yet.





When a fresh IAS probationer took up the block development officer's post at Raghunathpur II block in Purulia, he noticed a peculiarity while going through the rolls at Natundih village, 270 kilometres from Calcutta. A large chunk of the village women were not voting, and quite a few did not even have their elector's photo identity cards, even though their names were on the rolls. On making inquiries, he found that these women were from the minority community. A couple of visits to the area and he found that they had not voted at all since the first elections in 1950.

The probable answer to the puzzle appeared to be the purdah behind which the women have traditionally been kept. But if women from the community in other villages turn up to vote, why not those from Natundih? Kaushik Bhattacharya, the young probationer, sought a solution. It was decided that the Raghunathpur sub-divisional officer would hold a meeting with the political leaders of the region, the village imams and the women's husbands on this issue.

It emerged at the meeting — held a little less than two months prior to the voting on May 7 — that the women were traditionally uncomfortable in having direct interaction with men other than their husbands. The BDO suggested that if lady polling officials were in charge of the booths, the women could be encouraged to come out and vote. The imams and the villagers agreed, and a unique effort was set in motion.

The Election Commission was approached to permit the deployment of women polling officials at the two booths in Natundih. The EC directed that the presiding officer, the first, second and third poll officials, and even the sector officer and police personnel would be women. Selections were made and training was imparted. Before that, women officials accompanied the photographers who went to the homes of the female voters to get their pictures for the Epics.

Next time

But the EC's efforts to get the women from the minority community to vote in Natundih came to naught. Not a single woman of the community turned up to cast her vote. "Of the 1,452 voters in the two booths, 691 are women. At the end of voting, only 29 had turned up. Not one of them was from the minority community," said Seema Roy, the sector officer.

Sitting in her Pathanpara home, about 800 metres from the booth, Kusumjan Bibi (52), wife of Rashid Khan, offered an explanation for this. The first woman from the community to get an Epic in 1995, she said, "I don't know how to vote. I'm very nervous." Ninety-five per cent of the women from the community are illiterate, chipped in her husband. Kusumjan Bibi's second reason: "What is the use? What will we get from voting?" The village has 12 posts for the Integrated Child Development Scheme, all of which have been filled up from neighbouring villages.

Rashid Khan then added, "Two-thirds of the women in the village are opposition supporters. Natundih GP (gram panchayat) is the only one among the six GPs in Raghunathpur II block that is run by the Trinamul Congress. The sabhapati has been reluctant to help us," he claimed. But what about the time before the Left Front came to power? "We are basically illiterate. Our folk used to serve in the household of the zamindars. They used to impose on us candidates of their choice. As a result, there was a reluctance even among the men to go and vote," explained Rashid. He and Majid Khan, another resident, however said that if the administration had arranged a seminar for the women where the process of voting was explained to them, they could have overcome their fear.

The women missed out this time, but when the next occasion comes along, the TMC could count on a few hundred more votes from this village.







A new technology was popularized 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece: writing and reading. The philosopher Plato was worried about the damage if information was kept in libraries instead of the minds of students, who would not exercise their memories and would simply forget what they had learned. The transmission of knowledge to external written symbols would create the illusion of wisdom but not true wisdom, wrote Plato, influenced by his teacher Socrates.

But accumulated experience has shown that Plato was wrong. Writing and reading did not deplete the human spirit, but empowered it. They were the basis for each reader's intellectual development, and for transmitting knowledge between cultures, languages and generations. "Book learning" became synonymous with education and wisdom, an canonical books, first and foremost the Bible, became the foundation of culture.

Modern research has shown that reading sharpens the memory and ensures the accumulation of knowledge. Children who read the Harry Potter books can answer any question on the subject, while children who only see the movies fail that test. Other research has discovered that reading orders the reader's image of the world; subjects who did not know how to read had difficulty making even the simplest generalizations.

The 21st century has been characterized by a new technology, the Internet, which presents an opportunity and a challenge to reading's future. Because of the Internet, many more people read and write than ever before - in e-mails and blogs, on social networks and chat forums. At the same time, the multiplicity of messages and media choices makes reading long texts harder than before, leading to summarizations and brevity. New items like the Tablet and electronic readers are gradually moving books from print to digital format.

But the changes in reading habits, and even the physical appearance of books, need not and cannot change the most basic thing: Even in the Internet age, there is no substitute for books. Reading is still the most effective way, and of course the most enjoyable way, to gain knowledge, remember the past and experience worlds near and far, real and imaginary.






Gilad Shalit will not return. In any case, Gilad Shalit will not return insofar as it depends on the State of Israel rather than on his murderous captors in the Gaza Strip. For people who find my statements too harsh and perhaps even paranoid, I remind them that I was born in the land of the Nazis and my father committed suicide there. So it is no great optimist who speaks to you.

Gilad Shalit will not return, at least not as long as our prime minister believes he has a strong majority in the coalition. And he has nothing much to worry about there, since that slice of the Labor Party; a truncated Meretz; the kibbutz movement, disintegrating ever since Menachem Begin's slanderous remarks about swimming pools and capitalist privatization, now reaching its height; and a few tens of thousands of hidden and manifest righteous ones in the countries of Tel Aviv and Haifa - all of these will not suffice. In any case, that is how things look today. And to this must be added that our prime minister has found a few allies in the world that will allow him to talk about negotiations until the end of days, and I do not know how much more time poor Gilad and all of us still have until then.

And why? Because a coalition of the "encouraged" and the "fearful" - fearful of the rod of the anger of He who dwells on high, but not of what is happening here on earth as long as they are part of the right-wing majority now in power - will not help any more than it helped those who burned in the crematoriums of the people of the land of my birth. And in fact, we, who experienced the previous dark century and are alive now, are the ones who should truly be fearful. And remember well what one of those people said then, that a man who walks between two women in the Knesset hallway is an ass. The saying, "He who saves a single life in Israel is regarded as if he saved an entire world" has already been forgotten by those who dig and rummage through the soil to "bear witness" to our right to the land. And those who do not believe are in any case condemned to hell in this lifetime.

Gilad Shalit will not return. I hope, of course, that I am wrong. But it is better to be wrong than to mislead others.

I wanted to say these and other things, but they will apparently not be heard. The reason is because I had actually been invited by a television network to be interviewed on the unfortunate subject of Gilad Shalit, but I am sure my remarks will not be broadcast after all, so I permit myself to publish them in the bastion of the free press in Israel. We will leave to the television all the religious programs that again and again penetrate our screens at all hours. And again, it seems that Gilad Shalit will not return. I hope I am wrong. But my father was also wrong. The one on earth, not the one in heaven.






Washington - The stability that Hosni Mubarak conferred upon Israeli-Egyptian relations could not last forever, and Israel's security policy cannot be premised on an eternity of Arab tyranny; but still it is not hard to understand the anxiety that the turbulence in Egypt, and elsewhere in the Arab world, has provoked in Israel. What seems to rattle Israel is not only the prospect of Arab instability, but also the prospect of Arab democracy. The only democracy in the Middle East looks as if it wishes to remain the only democracy in the Middle East. This is not altogether attractive. But recently it occurred to me that Israel's nervousness about the political enfranchisement of its Arab neighbors has parallels, if not roots, in one of the oldest phenomena of Jewish history. Let me explain.

Students of the political history of the Jews in exile have observed that Jewish communities have always chosen "vertical alliances" over "horizontal alliances." The support and protection of kings and princes, of popes and bishops, have been preferred to a reliance upon the local population. The Jews were reluctant to trust their neighbors for their safety. Instead they sought a direct relationship with the highest authority and the most central power. Illustrations of this political strategy abound in all the periods of Jewish history. A great jurist in 13th-century Spain, for example, declared that dina de'malkhuta dina, "the law of the king is law," but dina de'ummta lav dina hu, "the law of the people is not law." And this suspicion of the surrounding population survived into the modern era in the Jewish enthusiasm for the nation-state, which seemed to offer protection from the indecencies of society.

Obviously the analogy between an exiled community and a sovereign state is highly imperfect, but still Israel's long preference for monarchs and dictators as its Arab interlocutors looks to me like another version of the vertical alliance. If this is so, then it is important to note that verticality was possible only with authoritarian regimes. It was precisely the unaccountability of secular and religious autocrats to their own populations, their ability to monopolize power and to employ it as they wished, that assured the Jewish communities of the wisdom of the arrangement. Of course the bargain did not always work. As Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi pointed out, vertical alliances were "forged at the expense of horizontal alliances with other segments or classes of the general population": They alienated the people next door. Often the kings and the bishops, the high-level saviors, failed the Jews, sometimes catastrophically. And the European nation-state that the Jews revered almost destroyed them.

If democracy comes to Egypt and other Arab countries, Israel will be confronted with the challenge of horizontality in its relations with its neighbors. If Arab governments will now have to demonstrate to their populations the rightness of coexistence with Israel, and justify to their peoples their treaties and other accommodations with Israel, then Israel will no longer be able to ignore the impact of its actions upon those populations and peoples. A deal with a strongman will no longer be enough. The opinions of the Arab publics will matter. Israeli diplomacy, if ever again there is to be such a thing, will have to broaden its purview and find ways to address nations and not just leaders. Israel will need to be not only feared, but also understood.

The vertical alliances of the Jews, in their exile and in their state, were premised on suspicion, and even despair, about the peoples among whom they lived. This suspicion and despair had a basis in historical reality. There are forces in contemporary Israeli politics that advocate such dark feelings, and profit from them. I do not believe that their jingoistic pessimism is warranted - but the picture is also too mixed and obscure to warrant a glib progressive optimism. The Israeli anxiety about the new political power of the Arab ummta will not be easily dispelled. Democracy releases ugly impulses and ideas along with beautiful impulses and ideas. So the question about the "Arab Spring" is whether, and where, and to what extent, the historical reality that provided a basis for suspicion and despair is really changing. Old categories and habits will not serve us well now. History is truly in motion. We must think empirically. A peace treaty accepted by a democratic Egypt will be stronger than a peace treaty accepted by an autocratic Egypt.






 When Ehud Barak joined the Netanyahu government, while breaking his promise to the electorate to sit in the opposition, I suspended my membership in the Labor Party after decades of working in its institutions. Now, at the very last minute, I've signed up again.

I felt that a good wind was blowing, a sudden awakening, a desire to live, go out and fight.

Many factors brought down the party that had established the state and built its foundations - the main ones, I think, were the betrayal of the party's ways, aims and voters, and its leaders' sticking to their chairs in the government, which turned it into a pitiful appendage of Likud. Now the voter understands the party's importance in the political arena and is giving it another chance - the last, I believe.

To face the challenge, the party needs a leader who is head and shoulders above the rest. If there is no obvious figure like that, the winner among the six candidates must build a collective management team from among the minds and forces that can be enlisted from within and without - both now and for the Knesset elections. The party needs a unified leadership that will recognize the elected leader and get help from experts not beholden to traditional notions. Camps and ego battles are a tried recipe for destruction. The electorate will not give the party another chance.

For many decades, Labor's leaders picked the fruits from the orchards that had been planted by the founders and depleted them of fruit and leaves. They neither sowed nor planted; they merely took. Now the party needs someone to rehabilitate and rebuild it, to renew the connection with social groups that deserted it. It must offer them a path, hope and reliability. It must fight for principles and stick to its promises.

On the political level, it must state in a clear voice that it supports an agreement with the Palestinians within the Six-Day-War borders, the division of Jerusalem, and land swaps, while preserving the state's security and democratic and Jewish character. It must call on the world day and night to be aware of the danger of a demographic problem that threatens us and could destroy the country from within, turning it into a binational state.

The party lent a hand to Likud in destroying the welfare state that it itself had built, deepened the social gaps, increased the number of people living below the poverty line and polarized Israeli society. It became, in the eyes of the electorate, a party of the upper classes instead of a party that represents and fights for the working public and middle class. Today it must spearhead the social struggle, as a social-democratic party, and return the residents of the poorer neighborhoods, the development towns, the middle class and the laborers to its ranks. It must regain the trust of the Arab public and fight for equal rights for that community and the investments it needs.

A social-democratic party must have its own approach to subjects of national importance in all spheres of existence - peace and security, the country's status in the world, health, education, housing, quality of life, the attitude toward minorities, social solidarity and many others. It has to shun the approach of the parties on the right, which do not represent the interests of the middle class and the workers. The test of a party leadership lies in its ability to offer a different path. In recent years, after its image has been blurred following a long stint in the coalition with Likud, the voter has asked what the difference is between Labor and Likud, or Labor and Kadima.

We must not be overwhelmed by the good spirit that the latest party census brought. The road is still long and there is much fighting ahead. Active and effective institutions must be set up, people must go out in the field and attract others who have capabilities and an ideological backbone, the corrupt system of primaries and party districting must be stopped and the party must be built in a different way. And the discussions and discourse inside the party must be revived.

Participating in weddings and bar mitzvahs is no substitute for a path or an ideology. This is a moment of grace, and it is vital to make the most of it. Our polarized society of immigrants with its two large minorities needs a social-democratic party that seeks peace and a well-ordered society that will raise both political and social banners. Israel needs a Labor Party - that is the significance of the latest census.






This year I stopped supporting the conscription of Yeshiva students to the army. The lack of equality in sharing the burden still fragments us, in my eyes, and also abuses us, but I have lost my belief that enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces will lead young men with deep non-liberal roots to adopt liberal tolerance.

And if that is so, I prefer to give up on the idea of ultra-Orthodox young men holding weapons, and certainly to forgo the idea of closed ultra-Orthodox battalions. Also of the hilltop youth. And if it is possible, also of the hundreds of youth who belong to the nationalist educational system and who marched through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City on the recent Jerusalem Day, shouting en masse: "Death to the leftists," "Mohammed is dead, Mohammed is dead," "Itbach el-Arab" (Kill the Arabs ) and "May your village burn."

Let them be called up for (civilian ) national service and be given an exemption from the IDF. On the other hand, I hope the trend among some of the secular population to evade the draft will come to a halt, because a sober look at the foreseeable future shows that the possibility we'll have to enter a confrontation over our existence as free men has become increasingly realistic.

People are naturally optimistic - that is our survival mechanism. We deny the fact that most of the young people in Israel, demographically speaking, will within two decades be the sons of nondemocratic sectors, Jews and Muslims. We know how to grab hold of the most unfounded reasoning in order to convince ourselves why a scenario in which there is a Knesset bereft of light, and an army that is loyal to darkness, will not eventuate. Of the ultra-Orthodox, we say, "They won't have a choice but to fit in." Of the political balance of power we say, "Peace will come and the political map will change."

We expect a huge number of miracles for which there is a slim chance. And when the justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, declares that the law of the Torah must be the only law of the state of Israel, we explain with certainty that this is merely obsequious rhetoric. This happens because we have it too good; we have never had it better in our restaurants and on the beaches.

Actually, this happens because we have it so bad; we were never so totally lacking in faith in the ability to change reality as we are now But nevertheless something new did happen this year: During Friday night dinners, in our communities, we started talking about the not unrealistic nightmare that, during our lifetime, or the lifetime of our children, Israel will stop being what it is.

We don't dare to put this polemic on the pages of our newspapers, afraid of it seeming defeatist, but inside of us it is bubbling away because the forces and the voices around us are clear. The question is: How will each of us behave? Who will flee, who will sink, and who will choose to wake up?

To wake up means, first and foremost, to awaken the education system. Not by forcing those sectors who are opposed to it to study Civics, but rather by educating toward the values of freedom starting with the (secular ) state education system. Democracy, in the eyes of the average high-school graduate in Israel, boils down to the principle of "the majority decides." Some of the heads of the educational system have complained that studying Civics "deals too much with criticism of the state," and "increases alienation instead of unifying society."

There has recently been talk about the intentions of senior Education Ministry officials to cut the number of teaching hours for Civics so that half of those hours can be devoted to studying Jewish heritage and Zionist history. Perhaps no one has an interest in educating about democracy and they prefer to teach us to kill ourselves with lack of responsiveness and ignorance, and to sink into deceptive individualism.

A painful test is awaiting the state religious education system, whose graduates are currently spearheading civil action in education, volunteerism, and in senior command positions - but their love of Israel often spawns in them hatred toward the "other" and a continuous tendency to radicalization. Are the character of the state, and individual freedoms, sufficiently important to them so they will fight alongside us? They will have to choose. And just like us, they must put their house in order.



******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES



There are just a few days left in the New York State legislative term, and there is a lot of important business left to do. We want to draw particular attention to two bills that would help protect victims of domestic violence. Both need to pass before lawmakers go home.

One of the measures recognizes that low-level domestic abuse is typically not a one-time problem and often escalates into greater violence. The bill would allow for felony prosecution of serial abusers who commit two or more misdemeanor domestic violence offenses within five years, such as repeated beatings that do not cause major physical injuries.

The defendants could be placed under probation supervision for five years or, in more serious cases, sent to prison for up to four years. Under current law, these abusers face the same penalty no matter how many convictions they rack up. The measure is on track to clear the Democratic-controlled Assembly. The leader of the Republican-controlled Senate, Dean Skelos, needs to push for its passage.

The second bill would help ensure that those who commit serious domestic violence misdemeanors, such as attempted strangulation or other forcible attack, are blocked from buying a gun. Federal law bars such sales. But enforcement relies on states transmitting the information to the federal database that gun dealers use to determine if a would-be purchaser is qualified.

The bill would facilitate the transfer of information from the State Division of Criminal Justice Services to the federal gun background check system. It has bipartisan support in both chambers, but there is a real danger it will get lost in the rush toward adjournment. It is up to the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, and Mr. Skelos, the Senate majority leader, to make sure that does not happen.






With Justice Clarence Thomas writing for a 5-to-4 majority, the Supreme Court has made it much harder for private lawsuits to succeed against mutual fund malefactors, even when they have admitted to lying and cheating.

The court ruled that the only entity that can be held liable in a private lawsuit for "any untrue statement of a material fact" is the one whose name the statement is presented under. That's so even if the entity presenting the statement is a business trust — basically a dummy corporation — with no assets, while its owner has the cash.

The facts of Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders are outrageous. Janus Capital Group created and manages the Janus mutual funds through a business trust. For years, Janus Capital Group, through the Janus funds, worked with at least 10 hedge funds to "market time" — letting them trade rapidly in and out of Janus funds to benefit from delays in updates of asset prices and enjoy guaranteed profits. In 2004, Janus Capital Group admitted its wrongdoing and made a $225 million settlement.

While Janus Capital Group engaged in this improper trading through the Janus funds, the funds' prospectuses assured that they had policies to prevent market timing. When a complaint from the New York State attorney general became public, the price of Janus Capital Group's stock dropped by 23 percent. Some shareholders sued Janus Capital Group and Janus Capital Management, which oversees the business trust and funds, for making false statements that led to the drop.

Justice Thomas's opinion is short and, from the mutual fund industry's perspective, very sweet: Janus Capital Group and Janus Capital Management were heavily involved in preparing the prospectuses, but they didn't "make" the statements so they can't be held liable. Only the business trust set up to hold the funds can be held liable, though it has no assets of its own to compensate plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Which means that there is no one to sue for the misleading prospectuses.

There is no doubt that Janus Capital Group is responsible. It used legal ventriloquism to speak through the business trust and Janus funds. Janus Capital Management does everything for the funds, which have no employees. As Justice Stephen Breyer writes in dissent, "The relationship between Janus Management and the Fund could hardly have been closer." For the majority, though, it is far enough apart to let the mutual fund industry and possibly others off the hook.





Monday's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire — full of historical error, economic obfuscation, avoidance of hard truths and even outright bigotry — was a feast for connoisseurs of political dysfunction. Desperate to avoid being outflanked on the right, the seven candidates tried so hard to outdo each other in finding fault with President Obama that they seemed to forget that they are competing for the same party nomination. By evening's end, they had melted into an indistinguishable mass of privatizing, tax-cutting opponents of Shariah law.

For the moment, the candidates are appealing to a Republican Party whose core is so contorted in fury at Mr. Obama that it barely resembles the one that nominated George W. Bush in 2000. Mr. Bush may have prosecuted the war on terror to excess, but he always reminded the country that it was not at war with Islam. This batch of Republicans has dispensed with such niceties. Herman Cain repeated his earlier statement that he would not be comfortable with a Muslim in his cabinet. Some, he explained, "are trying to kill us."

None of other candidates took him to task for this. Mitt Romney, a Mormon who has himself been the subject of religious slurs, at least mentioned the nation's founding principle of religious tolerance and respect but missed an opportunity to include Muslims. Newt Gingrich tumbled over the historical cliff with the idea, announcing some kind of loyalty oath to serve in his administration, similar to that used in dealing with Nazis and Communists. At least no one brandished a list of known Muslims serving in Mr. Obama's State Department.

Eventually, the winner of the Republican nomination will move away from the Tea Party's anger to try to appeal to a broader electorate that has higher priorities than interfering with laws on same-sex marriage and upending Congress's decision to welcome openly gay and lesbian soldiers. That broader electorate, eager to hear the candidates' plans to resuscitate the economy, would be hard pressed to find a coherent pathway out of joblessness from the Republican field on Monday night.

Asked how he would start to put the 14 million jobless back to work, Rick Santorum said he would repeal health care reform and drill for oil. Tim Pawlenty was one of several making the tired and empty argument that more tax cutting would "get the economy moving." Mr. Santorum actually vowed to let the "wealth really trickle down."

Michele Bachmann had the strangest, most simplistic economic solution of all: simply close down the Environmental Protection Agency, which she said "should really be renamed the Job-Killing Organization of America."

Mr. Romney, the presumed front-runner, provided almost no details of his economic plan, except to attack Mr. Obama for making the recession "worse and longer." (He didn't mention that the recession ended in June 2009.) He said the government's bailout of General Motors and Chrysler was a waste of money and accused the administration of catering to the auto unions. He did not mention that it saved at least 1.4 million jobs and a vital American industry, which has already paid back half the cost.

The field was silent on so many things: how to cover those without health insurance, how to improve education while slashing budgets, which popular programs to cut after the onslaught of tax reductions. It is much easier, apparently, to impress Republican voters with the facile argument that President Obama has failed.

But, at some point, those voters are going to want these candidates to start making some distinctions among themselves, and that will require far more truth-telling than was evident on Monday.





Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary biologist, gained broad public attention for exposing how scientists' biases can skew their research. In one celebrated case, he charged that a famous study of human skulls in the mid-19th century had been manipulated, probably unconsciously, to support racist notions.

The skulls had been collected by Samuel George Morton, a physical anthropologist. He measured their cranial capacity by filling them with seeds and later with lead shot. Caucasians had the largest brain volume, followed by Asians, with American Indians and Africans trailing.

Dr. Gould, who died in 2002, re-analyzed Morton's results and concluded that he had selectively reported data and manipulated subgroups to fit a preconception that Caucasians had bigger brains than Africans and were, therefore, more intelligent. Dr. Gould found no important differences among the races. He did not measure the skulls himself.

Now a team of six physical anthropologists has filled almost half the skulls with pellets and concluded that Morton's data were generally reliable and not manipulated. Although the team acknowledged that Morton often reported results in a "highly racist fashion," in this case it found no evidence that Morton believed brain size was a measure of intelligence or was trying to prove it.

The team expressed admiration for Dr. Gould's body of work in staunch opposition to racism, but, in this case, it accused him of various errors and manipulations that supported his own hypothesis. "Ironically, Gould's own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results," the team said. We wish Dr. Gould were here to defend himself. Right now it looks as though he proved his point, just not as he intended.






Stockbridge, Mass.

PATRICK LEIGH FERMOR, who died last week at age 96 at his home in England, was one of the great minor men of the 20th century. A hero for helping undermine the German occupation of Crete during World War II, he went on to become one of the greatest travel writers of his era.

At first glance, Fermor seems a throwback to the age of derring-do imperialists like T. E. Lawrence. But he did not simply glorify king and country; rather, he combined the traits of a soldier, linguist and humanist, and he appreciated history and culture for their own sake even as he used that wisdom to defend civilization. In today's world of overly specialized foreign-policy knowledge, in which military men, politicians and academics inhabit disconnected intellectual universes, we need more generalists like Fermor.

Trained in the classics before being expelled from the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Fermor was the last member of an English-language literary Byzantium, which included Robert Byron, Freya Stark and Lawrence Durrell. Travel writers all, these children of empire had as their lair the Eastern Mediterranean and the greater Middle East.

The absence of electronic distractions gave these writers time to read and hone their intellects, allowing them to describe cultures and landscapes in exquisite but not needlessly florid language. Here is Fermor in his 1966 travel book, "Roumeli," describing the sounds of the various regions of Greece: "Arcadia is the double flute, Arachova the jingle of hammers on the strings of a dulcimer, Roumeli a klephtic song heckled by dogs and shrill whistles, Epirus the trample of elephants, the Pyrrhic stamp, the heel slapped in the Tsamiko dance, the sigh of Dodonian holm-oaks and Acroceraunian thunder and rain."

Unlike the young Winston Churchill in Sudan or the Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke journeying through the Ottoman Empire, Fermor and his friends refused to reduce the world to questions of strategy and national interest: they were more taken by culture and landscape, which in fact made them more valuable than most intelligence agents.

Following the Nazi occupation of Crete, Fermor, fluent in both classical and modern Greek, infiltrated the island to help organize the resistance. He and a small band of British agents spent years in the mountains disguised as Cretan shepherds, complete with black turbans and sashes and armed with silver-and-ivory daggers. Fermor organized and carried out the daring 1944 kidnapping of Gen. Werner Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, whom Fermor's group marched to a boat that spirited them to Egypt.

Fermor could have settled comfortably into the War Office, or gone on to an illustrious diplomatic career. But his interests lay elsewhere: he traveled in the Caribbean, lived with French monks and wrote about it all.

He returned to Greece in the 1950s, where he produced his greatest works, "Mani," about southern Greece, and "Roumeli," about the north. Here we see his knowledge on full display: in "Roumeli" we are treated to disquisitions on Eastern monasticism, the dying dialect of the Sarakatsan tribe and the secret language of the Kravara, a region north of the Gulf of Corinth.

These are great works of travel, but they are also the gold standard of area expertise. Such expertise can only be built on devotion to subject, with no ulterior motive.

Because America's own security will rest in a world where tribes matter as much as Twitter, Fermor is an icon of the kind of soldier, diplomat or intelligence expert we will need: someone who can seamlessly move from any one of these jobs to another, who is equally at home reading a terrain map as he is reciting the poetry of the people with whom he is dealing. The more depth and rarity of knowledge we can implant in our officials, the less likely they are to serve up the wrong options in a crisis.

But as Fermor shows, knowledge can't be selectively learned for utilitarian ends. He was driven by the kind of appreciation of beauty with which life itself is sanctified.

I once visited his house in the Southern Peloponnese, where I fell into his library, pungent from the wood burning in the fireplace. Battered old bindings lay in recessed shelves piled to the ceiling.

At one point I mentioned the Neoplatonist philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon. I was suddenly regaled with a disquisition, between sips of retsina, of how Plethon's remains were exhumed in 1465 by Sigismondo Malatesta, the mercenary commander of a Venetian expeditionary force that held the lower town of Mistra in the Peloponnese. Malatesta, Fermor recalled, refused to withdraw ahead of a Turkish army without first claiming the body of his favorite philosopher. Here was the erudition that flavors every page of Fermor's books.

The British Empire lasted as long as it did partly because it produced soldier-aesthetes like Fermor, who could talk about medieval Greece as easily as he could the Italian Renaissance, for comparison is necessary for all serious scholarship. America needs men and women like Fermor if it is to maintain its current position in the world.

Robert D. Kaplan is the author of "Mediterranean Winter: The Pleasures of History and Landscape in Tunisia, Sicily, Dalmatia, and the Peloponnese." He is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a correspondent for The Atlantic.







You probably missed the recent special issue of China Newsweek, so let me bring you up to date. Who do you think was on the cover — named the "most influential foreign figure" of the year in China? Barack Obama? No. Bill Gates? No. Warren Buffett? No. O.K., I'll give you a hint: He's a rock star in Asia, and people in China, Japan and South Korea scalp tickets to hear him. Give up?

It was Michael J. Sandel, the Harvard University political philosopher.

This news will not come as a surprise to Harvard students, some 15,000 of whom have taken Sandel's legendary "Justice" class. What makes the class so compelling is the way Sandel uses real-life examples to illustrate the philosophies of the likes of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

Sandel, 58, will start by tossing out a question, like, "Is it fair that David Letterman makes 700 times more than a schoolteacher?" or "Are we morally responsible for righting the wrongs of our grandparents' generation?"  Students offer competing answers, challenge one another across the hall, debate with the philosophers — and learn the art of reasoned moral argument along the way.

Besides being educational, the classes make great theater — so much so that Harvard and WGBH (Boston's PBS station) filmed them and created a public television series that aired across the country in 2009. The series, now freely available online (at, has begun to stir interest in surprising new places.

Last year, Japan's NHK TV broadcast a translated version of the PBS series, which sparked a philosophy craze in Japan and prompted the University of Tokyo to create a course based on Sandel's. In China, volunteer translators subtitled the lectures and uploaded them to Chinese Web sites, where they have attracted millions of viewers. Sandel's recent book — "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?" — has sold more than a million copies in East Asia alone. This is a book about moral philosophy, folks!

Here's The Japan Times describing Sandel's 2010 visit: "Few philosophers are compared to rock stars or TV celebrities, but that's the kind of popularity Michael Sandel enjoys in Japan." At a recent lecture in Tokyo, "long lines had formed outside almost an hour before the start of the evening event. Tickets, which were free and assigned by lottery in advance, were in such demand that one was reportedly offered for sale on the Web for $500." Sandel began the lecture by asking: "Is ticket scalping fair or unfair?"

But what is most intriguing is the reception that Sandel (a close friend) received in China. He just completed a book tour and lectures at Tsinghua and Fudan universities, where students began staking out seats hours in advance. This semester, Tsinghua started a course called "Critical Thinking and Moral Reasoning," modeled on Sandel's.  His class visit was covered on the national evening news.

Sandel's popularity in Asia reflects the intersection of three trends. One is the growth of online education, where students anywhere now can gain access to the best professors from everywhere. Another is the craving in Asia for a more creative, discussion-based style of teaching in order to produce more creative, innovative students. And the last is the hunger of young people to engage in moral reasoning and debates, rather than having their education confined to the dry technical aspects of economics, business or engineering.

At Tsinghua and Fudan, Sandel challenged students with a series of cases about justice and markets: Is it fair to raise the price of snow shovels after a snowstorm? What about auctioning university admissions to the highest bidder? "Free market sentiment ran surprisingly high," Sandel said, "but some students argued that unfettered markets create inequality and social discord."

Sandel's way of teaching about justice "is both refreshing and relevant in the context of China," Dean Qian Yingyi of Tsinghua's School of Economics and Management, explained in an e-mail. Refreshing because of the style and relevant because "the philosophic thinking among the Chinese is mostly instrumentalist and materialistic," partly because of "the contemporary obsession on economic development in China."

Tsinghua's decision to offer a version of Sandel's course, added Qian, "is part of a great experiment of undergraduate education reform currently under way at our school. ... This is not just one class; it is the beginning of an era."

Sandel is touching something deep in both Boston and Beijing. "Students everywhere are hungry for discussion of the big ethical questions we confront in our everyday lives," Sandel argues. "In recent years, seemingly technical economic questions have crowded out questions of justice and the common good.  I think there is a growing sense, in many societies, that G.D.P. and market values do not by themselves produce happiness, or a good society. My dream is to create a video-linked global classroom, connecting students across cultures and national boundaries — to think through these hard moral questions together, to see what we can learn from one another."








I guess you don't get to be the richest man in Saudi Arabia without being able to sum up a situation quickly.

When I called him in Riyadh on Tuesday night, the Arabian Warren Buffett, as the billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is known, was quite definite in his views on allowing Saudi women to drive.

"We're not calling for diplomatic relations with Israel," he said. "We're just asking for ladies to drive the car. Please, give me a break. Even in North Korea, women can drive. It's a joke. The issue of women driving can happen tomorrow morning because it's not really an issue at all. Frankly speaking, we need strong political leadership to do it and get it behind us. What are we waiting for?"

Of course, Prince Alwaleed is a pillar of modernity in the medieval kingdom. In his skyscraper office in Riyadh, women in tight jeans and suits rule the roost, working side by side with men, something that is forbidden elsewhere. Government offices in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender.

The prince made a point of hiring a woman, born in the holy city of Mecca, and training her to be the pilot of his private jet.

"Ladies can fly above but not drive on the street," he said dryly, noting: "My wife drives in the desert and in every city we go to immediately from the airport. She's an excellent driver — better than me, for sure."

In the '50s, at the height of the American mania for jokes and TV skits about ditzy women behind the wheel, there was a saying: "Women drivers, no survivors."

That takes on an ominous new meaning as Saudi women agonize over whether to join in a drive-in Friday — a national protest where women will take the wheel to see if they get thrown in the clink en masse. In 1990, 47 women from the Saudi intelligentsia were so inspired by American troops — and female soldiers — gathering in the kingdom for the first President Bush's war against Saddam that they went for a joy ride to protest Saudi Arabia being the only country where women can't drive.

The fundamentalist clerics went into overdrive, branding the women "whores" and "harlots." They lost their jobs and were harassed. Their passports were revoked and they had to sign papers agreeing not to talk about the drive. When I interviewed some of them 12 years later, they were only beginning to shake off the vengeful backlash.

For all the highfalutin talk of George and Laura Bush about how W.'s wars would help expand the rights of women in the Middle East, there's only so much pressure America can put on Saudi Arabia about letting women drive without jeopardizing the flow of oil that lets people drive here. President Obama did not even mention Saudi Arabia in his big speech about the Middle East last month.

Driving may not be as important an issue as the end of male guardianship, but it is the high-octane nexus where our hypocrisies interlock.

The latest drive to drive started last month, a Twitter and Facebook feminist blossoming in the Arab Spring, following a Saudi "Day of Rage" in March where nobody showed up except the police.

King Abdullah passes for progressive in Saudi Arabia. (He just passed a decree allowing women, instead of men, to sell women lingerie.) Frightened by the uprisings all around him, he snuffed out wisps of democratic protests the Saudi way: with his checkbook. After the "Day of Rage" fizzled, he rewarded his complacent citizens with $130 billion in salary increases, new housing and financing for religious organizations.

But then a 32-year-old single mother named Manal al-Sharif, an Internet consultant for the state-run oil company Aramco, posted a video of herself on YouTube, driving in a black abaya in the Eastern Province city of Al-Khobar.

She told CNN that the last straw was one night when she was trying to get home to her 5-year-old son and she couldn't catch a cab or find her brother to pick her up or get away from male drivers harassing her as she walked alone.

"I'm a grown-up woman," she said, adding: "And I was crying like a kid in the street because I couldn't find someone to pick me up to take me back home."

She was put in jail for a week and forced to sign a document agreeing not to talk to the press or continue her calls for reform. This had a chilling effect on women.

But, this week, Reem al-Faisal, a princess, activist and Jidda photographer who is the granddaughter of the late King Faisal and the niece of the Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, spoke out, writing in The Arab News that "it is truly tragic that we have to fight for such an essential yet mediocre right" and be treated as "eternal minors."

She suggested that women simply drive pollution-free camels. Except then men would "deny women camel-driving rights, too. Then we will have to content ourselves with taking the backseat of the camels or start looking for other options — mules maybe?"






San Juan, P.R.

A MONTH of steady rain has brightened the cobblestones of Old San Juan. Now they are as blue as the crabs hawked alongside the coastal roads of this Caribbean territory of the United States. Public employees must have been relieved that nature cooperated, after weeks spent sprucing up the city for Barack Obama's arrival here on Tuesday morning.

His visit aggravated the city's already grim traffic jams, called tapones, prompting some cynical reactions. A taxi driver named Reina Blanco waved her arm at the highway and told me: "Once again I'm going to be hearing tourists say they'll never come back here because of the traffic."

Nevertheless, most people consider the traffic a worthwhile inconvenience for the rare occasion of an official presidential visit, the first since John F. Kennedy came here 50 years ago. Welcome banners throughout the city picture the two presidents side by side with the words: "We are proud to be part of history, Kennedy 1961, Obama 2011."

But how much do we have to celebrate?

A referendum on the future of Puerto Rico — independence, statehood or the status quo — will be held sometime in the next year or so, and Puerto Ricans are divided.

Hundreds of pro-independence protesters rallied Tuesday morning at the Plaza de Colón, named for Christopher Columbus, and El Morro fortress. One sign portrayed George Washington and read: "We too demand our independence." At the same time, our pro-statehood governor, Luis Fortuño, celebrated Flag Day at the Capitol under the stars and stripes. (Mr. Obama didn't attend.)

Earlier in the morning, with the streets closed off and quiet as a tomb, police officers at every corner, I spoke briefly to a slight woman who was passing through and was not a part of either extreme. "I was born under the two flags," she said. "I was born in 1935, and every day in school we saluted the two flags."

The daily newspapers have been full of ads from all sides of the debate and a litany of grievances. Official unemployment is over 16 percent, nearly half the commonwealth lives in poverty, and the murder rate is at a record high. Police abuses and civil rights violations, particularly against students, have intensified under the Fortuño administration, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. The country's premier university, where I teach, had a quarter of its budget slashed this year. A controversial natural gas pipeline has been planned to nearly span the island from south to north. (The government calls it Via Verde; its opponents, Via de la Muerte.) And early this year, Puerto Rico's most famous political prisoner, Oscar Lopez Rivera, was denied parole after nearly 30 years of imprisonment in the United States.

But Mr. Obama may not know much about what the residents of this island — who can't vote for him in a general election anyway — care about. Banners along the expressway criticizing the government's policies were removed before he arrived. And he mingled mainly with the bigwigs who paid between $10,000 and $35,800 to attend a Democratic fund-raiser at the Caribe Hilton (though to his credit, he also met with an opposition leader).

In any case, his visit is mostly aimed at winning votes stateside — where there are some 4.6 million Puerto Ricans, compared with 3.7 million on the island — particularly in swing states like Florida that have large Puerto Rican communities.

At one of the many kiosks where vendors sold hand-crafted jewelry and bacalaítos, or cod fritters, I ran into a young man named Joel Casanova from Tampa, who said he had made the trip with his family expressly for Mr. Obama's visit. His parents had voted for him, but he wasn't sure if he would. (He was clear, however, about his support for the Miami Heat, which lost in the N.B.A. finals last weekend to the Dallas Mavericks and its Puerto Rican point guard, J. J. Barea.)

Even if the president's visit changes little about life in Puerto Rico, it may, at least, endear him more to those who live here. Millions sensed themselves a part of history in the symbolic power of President Obama's candidacy. I first remember feeling that during his speech in Selma, Ala., in March 2007, when he poignantly recalled his grandfather living under British colonial rule in Kenya.

I can't help but wonder what Mr. Obama's grandfather would have thought about the still-colonial status of the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico.

Maritza Stanchich is an associate professor of English at the Río Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico.









With the heads of all the principal civil and military bodies getting around the same table for the first time in this government, and a slew of visits by Americans carrying repair kits, it is clear that the political winds have shifted. The shock to the system provided by the Osama bin Laden raid and the attack on the PNS Mehran base has been profound. It has exposed weaknesses in our security apparatus and, at the same time, appears to have forced a re-evaluation of our relations with America. The military has stated in the clearest possible terms that it has no interest in governing the country, and at the same time offered support for what passes for democracy. The civil power has decided that the Bin Laden raid was a raid too far and seems to have put its foot down with the Americans. Taking these events together one can see why it was time all the guarantors of the existence of the state got around the table to make sure they were all reading from the same page and could present a unified voice to the population. In the end it came down to a single-line communiqué and a resolve not to 'accept any external pressure' regarding who or what we should be attacking, and where and when to attack who or what.

The American repair team of Clinton, Kerry, Grossman and Mullen has applied its toolkits with varying success over the last six weeks. They have persisted in their calls for military operations and reiterated their belief in the criticality of Pakistan in the fight against extremism. But it is the bigger fight that we hardly ever hear of that needs to be joined, fought and won. Whatever battle is fought militarily, it is the battle against the insidious creeping mindset of extremism that is of the greatest importance. There is no point in winning physical battles against extremists if the culture and conditions that produced those extremists are unchanged, and thus produce more extremists to fight yet another battle with. Battle, like much of the national debt burden, becomes circular. Extremism has been fostered by poor governance, the spread of corruption, a failure to invest in education at primary level and a chronic failure of politicians to collectively think, plan and act together in a way that guarantees our future rather than lines their pockets. Unless we fight extremism at its roots, every battle we fight in Waziristan will be the prelude to another battle we have to fight later.







It seems the already-long list of those targeted for doing their job will only keep getting longer and longer. In a latest incident, Dr Baqir Shah, the police surgeon who conducted autopsy on the victims of the Kharotabad shooting incident, has been attacked by policemen in Quetta. Journalist Jamal Tarakai, who made the video of the incident, was also arrested and it is reported that the police have assaulted him also. But that's not all: three doctors received gun shot wounds and five others were injured when police used tear gas and fired aerial shots to prevent 200 of Balochistan's young doctors from staging a sit-in protest in front of Chief Minister's Secretariat in Quetta. It is clear that police brutality in the province and around the country has reached nightmarish proportions. According to a private TV channel, Dr Shah was visiting a restaurant when up to 10 people arrived and dragged the surgeon out. He put up resistance and ended up being so badly beaten he had to be rushed to the civil hospital. He has requested the government to provide security to all the doctors involved in the case and said he will take legal action against the accused policemen. The attack came just hours after Dr Shah had recorded his statement in the ongoing tribunal on the Kharotabad killing incident in which five foreigners were gunned down at a check post by police and FC personnel on 'suspicions' they were armed suicide bombers. In his testimony, Dr Shah confirmed that all the victims had died of gunshot wounds from police and FC weapons fired from a distance of 50-60 feet. Dr Shah conclusively ruled out that the foreigners were killed by a hand grenade, which is what the police had claimed. Even after being attacked, Dr Shah says he will stand by his conclusions.

As if the police weren't already over their heads with suspicions and allegations of naked aggression towards civilians, these latest incidents will only reinforce people's conviction that the ones tasked to protect them may just be the ones they need to fear the most. After the recent killing of an unarmed youth by Rangers personnel in Karachi, this latest attack on a professional carrying out the legitimate and necessary duties given him by the government does nothing but buttress the impression that the police and other security agencies increasingly consider themselves above the law and think themselves capable of getting away with just about anything. In a democracy no one has the right to suppress the truth through intimidation and brutality. What is most disturbing is that this intimidation of citizens and the assault on freedom of expression seem to be a part of a larger policy of dealing with dissenting versions of events.








You see these faces daily, on your way to work, on your way to the mall, as you walk, drive or are driven along streets, or stroll in a park alone or with your family or friends. Their eyes cross yours, you cast a casual glance at their uniform; and you think you know what you are looking at!

See their faces now, as they eye their prey while he begs for mercy. They warm up to the kill by working out where to place pain on his body in well-measured blows and kicks, before making the final move to draw blood.

Indignation sears you, rage makes you tremble. But you cannot avoid their faces. You fix your gaze on them. You wish you could somehow look deep within their souls, into the deepest recess of their minds, at the demons that must abound within them. You wish you could unravel the secret behind the existence of these demons. What begot them? The Shakespearian frailty of their mothers? The Freudian resentment they may bear their fathers?

But you can't penetrate. Your gaze strives in vain against these stony walls of ghastly determination – determination to abdicate one's right to be called human. You see blood gush out from the body of the victim who is still trying to evoke their pity with his pleas for being taken to hospital. They make sure his blood flows out smoothly.

You suddenly realise there is no need for your effort. There is a distinct lack of psychological complexity here. They don't have to displace from their minds the fact that it is a 19-year-old boy, it is a human being, it is life. There is no such notion to displace in the first place. There is no question of conscience involved. What about the fear of consequences? Consequences here are determined not by crime but by class; and the boy obviously has 'no class', he is an underdog. He is so vulnerable, so inconsequential.

It is inhumanity then? But what animal can ever stand accused of this? What beast would do this to another beast? No, they have to be human; they are distinctly human. And that's scary. Still scary, after so much that we have come to know during this century and the centuries before it about the capability of humans to degrade their own species. It is scarier when you think it is not happening in a movie based on the memoirs of a holocaust survivor, it is not happening as part of a tribal genocide in some far-off land in the continent of Africa. It is here, right in the middle of where you live. You are no more a perceptive viewer of a depiction of reality; you are a spectator of the rape of your own humanity.

Then you hear the lords, telling you not to point fingers at the institutions that nurture these rapists, to focus on the individuals, and not to forget that the one who lay bleeding was a criminal. You then focus on the faces of the lords. The faces that gleamed when six "Chechen" "suicide bombers" were bravely killed by some individuals who just happen to belong to an institution – the sixth "Chechen" wasn't born yet. The faces that frown at the mention of a meaningful enquiry into the murder of an investigative journalist who perhaps lost his mind before he lost his life and blamed his own murder not on individuals but an institution. The faces that will definitely frown if the lords were reminded of some other videos that originated in Swat containing scenes of some individuals, who again just happened to belong to an institution, indulging in war-time fun. The faces that show no sign of shame while their bearers correct the count of those made to disappear in Balochistan, whose families, as part of some grand conspiracy against the institutions of this country, name institutions and not individuals as responsible not only for the disappearances but the reappearances of many in pieces of flesh. Some of these faces are famous for sermons full of sound and fury signifying a revolution to be achieved by unleashing hungry dogs on the 'feudals' and hanging what remains of them. As you see these faces, life becomes unbearable nausea, pure filth that you feel mired in. You want to puke, and it is not very difficult to imagine where.

No, this is no material for a Capote classic; the enormity of what has happened and is happening is monstrous. This country is no Denmark, where just something is rotten. The mark of Cain is visible everywhere, on each one of these faces. "Am I my brother's keeper?" was his unconvincing defence. He has learned to do better. He actually became our keeper; he speaks through many tongues and appears in many guises, with uniform and without it, in parliament and outside it. He has 'institutionalised' himself, polished his lies and perfected his deceits. He kills now with abandon and his children revel in orgies of blood and gore. They are not individuals that just happen to be there. They are not leaves in the wind. They are organic parts of a predatory monster, the institutionalised Cain, institutionalised in the state and its organs, institutionalised in the politics and parties of our "brothers" who are our keepers and will not let their watch over us grow distant, even if they have to amputate our limbs.

What is happening is not an aberration. A state that has ideoligised violence of various kinds in the name of values and beliefs, constitutionalised theocratic superstitions, intellectualised unreason through education and propaganda, brought up sectarian and ethnic vultures that thrive on hatred and feed on the flesh of the "other" – a state that for decades has rented itself out to the highest bidders to fight their wars and clean their filth, a government that comprises thieves, swindlers, fakers and murderers; a political culture where the stature of a politician depends on how may large swathes of population he holds hostage, how many people he can get killed in a day and how many institutions here and abroad he can do business with – this has been our sorry lot which would be the undoing of any people. But couple it with the state's colossal failure to ensure, both in economic and social terms, a 'human' level of existence for the majority of its subjects, and you get some idea of the nature of the beast. Imagine this beast fully aroused at a time when the state has to rent itself out, yet again, in a war whose weight is proving to be too much for it to bear but whose weight it must 'obey', and you have a situation which would put to shame Hamlet's lament on his times.

The toll on our institutions is terrifying, with things falling apart with a rapidity that frightens them, demolishes the myth of their invincibility and exposes their utter irrelevance to any idea of a possibility of a new Pakistan arising out of the ashes of the old that is on fire. The spirit of Cain has come to possess them in the same measure as that of their failure to gain 'real' legitimacy which cannot be the work of force alone.

Long-time renegades from their basic responsibility – that of making little "things of life" possible for those they rule and theoretically protect – they will now seek refuge in unbridled force wherever they can, against those who run afoul by raising questions of legitimacy. And when institutions crumble, in the darkness that falls the little Cains they harbour within them will kill not only on their masters' bidding but also for money, mirth and revenge. It shouldn't be very difficult in a land vanquished by Cain.










 "In the little world in which children have their existence," argues Pip in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations, "there is nothing so finely perceived and finely felt, as injustice". Pip was right. But a strong perception of manifest injustice applies equally to 'young adults' as well, as succinctly put by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen who observes, "What moves us, reasonably enough, is not the realisation that the world falls short of being completely just – which few of us expect – but that there are clearly remediable injustices around us which we want to eliminate".

People react not because they generally strive for a perfectly just world but because they want to remove clear injustices to the extent they can. Remember Tunisia and Egypt? But when they fail to do even that, chaos sets in, which even if it fails in translating into an immediate dramatic grandiose revolution, the ensuing incessant turmoil unfailingly ensures the gradual deconstruction of all semblance of order. And we are witnessing the latter phenomenon right here at home.

Hundreds of millions of Pips walk around haplessly while keenly aware of the manifest injustices plaguing their everyday existence. In a country with 60 percent of its180 million citizens being under 29 years old, and millions more being added every year, one frets visualizing the consequences of a violent popular reaction to the criminal socio-economic injustice. Add to that the harrowing poverty figures and the volatility of the situation is not difficult to fathom. About 72.9 million of our population struggles merely to survive under the poverty line – a staggering 41.2 percent of the total head count. And don't forget, 60 percent of them are young men and women with endless energy, but limited patience.

Pakistan's biggest asset is its human capital, which if ignored, is also its greatest threat and may cause it to implode. But do we see any reflection of a realisation of this immense potential, and threat, in our national policymaking? None. Did the currently tabled federal and provincial budgets carry any innovative measures aimed at creating a motivating environment of opportunity and responsibility for the youth? Barely.

We need to engage our youth by refocusing it, giving it a sense of responsibility, and allowing it a meaningful role in participatory democracy. It must be transformed into an agent of socio-economic (and consequently political) change by dovetailing its interests into the economic policy. Micro-finance for youth is needed on a war footing because we are in the midst of a social war with an overwhelmingly young and alarmingly disempowered youth. The mantra of Finance Minister Hafeez Sheikh needs to be micro-finance for the youth. And here's why.

Lowering the voting age to 18 is meaningless unless the role of the young is meaningfully enhanced. Japan came out of its war-induced recession not through its industrial giants but due to the collective buoyancy of its individual small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The same holds true for South Korea, Germany, China and many other countries. It was no coincidence either, that the bulk of these SMEs were the bold initiatives of young men and women, driven by their unfettered passion and the irrepressible exuberance of youth that loves challenging risks so abhorred by those advanced in years, and with tampered experience. A youth's business initiative may fail but the youth itself doesn't. The youth does not fear failures as it has time on its side. And it is this verve that our country needs to build upon.

A national scheme of Youth Loans must be launched to provide small loans of say Rs 500,000 to holders of masters' degrees and graduates of recognised vocational diploma schools. These loans must be offered at a negligibly low mark up and the collateral must only be the project itself and the personal bond of the initiator. The youth should be asked to present innovative and less-capital intensive ideas, or a reasonable business plan based on an existing need or niche. Moreover, Rs 500,000 is a decent viable startup capital and resources could also be pooled by the budding entrepreneurs to start relatively bigger projects.

All our youth needs is a helping hand and a defining sense of purpose. Surely, many will fail but even if the failure rate is a whopping 40 percent, the remaining 60 percent who do make it will still give us a massive new business class running into hundreds of thousands of young energetic motivated entrepreneurs, who would in turn spawn another wave of similar initiatives. At the same time, we would also deprive the prying negative forces of their fertile recruiting grounds. A few billion rupees spent in this scheme will unquestionably yield a billion times better results than doling out Rs50 billion through the Benazir income-support fund. That arguably has its own merits but our priority must be to teach people how to catch fish rather than handing out the proverbial fish to the hungry.

Of course we must expect the finance ministry mandarins to predict 100 percent failure of this 'fanciful idea'. But even in such a virtually impossible scenario (ongoing micro-finance projects in Pakistan have already proven it otherwise), these 'wasted moneys' would still end in the Pakistani economic cycle, unlike the hundreds of billions stolen by the traditional 'big dependable business borrowers' and stashed away in foreign bank accounts.

Last year alone, thanks to the incompetence of our 'competent' economic managers, millions of dollars were paid out to foreign lenders as "commitment charges" – the other name for failure. Surely, our youngsters can perform better.

The past bureaucratic policy of excluding the youth, the largest portion of our human capital, from playing a 'game changing' role in the nation's economic endeavours has proven a failure. So what do we have to lose in taking a chance with the segment harbouring the greatest potential, may I ask?

Agreed, a million other things need to be done also for the youth like education and capacity building, but an immediate beginning has to be made somewhere. By empowering the youth, the nation's ability to cause a sustainable socio-economic change starts early, and equally importantly, the youths' personal success gets intertwined with that of the society and the country. From being disempowered and disillusioned, the youth becomes a critical stakeholder and guarantor of the system.

Ours is a country having unimaginable youth potential, a country of the future with an uncanny ability to transform and perform beyond expectations. All it needs is one good idea, and half a leader to implement it. The question is: Is Hafeez Sheikh even half the innovative leader he pretends to be?

The writer is editor The News, Islamabad.








 "Nothing is more unpredictable than the mob, nothing more obscure than public opinion and nothing more deceptive than the whole political system." Cicero.

South African cricketer Neil McKenzie was obsessed with rituals. He would not go out to bat unless all the toilet seats in the dressing room were down. He also taped his bat to the ceiling to bring him luck! Not content with that, he would get in and out of bed three times before a game. Going in to bat, he used to put on his left pad first. On the batting crease, he looked towards fine leg, square leg, and then the bowler before facing each ball.

Rituals have, since ancient times, been the tool with which people convinced themselves that they were in control. It was believed that, among many other things, they could control the weather, capture the love of another person, and heal the sick. The feeling of control has always been so important that a lack of the same is deemed inherently threatening. Faced with this lack of control, some people turn to rituals and rhetoric as a way to deal with complex or chaotic circumstances. Our political class is the outcome of interest groups competing for material gains and power. Over the years, there has been a demonstrated link between our politics, rituals, and rhetoric.

Repetition creates a habit; eventually becoming so ingrained that it becomes part of the response. This in turn requires no active thought at all. Emile Durkheim, regarded by many as the father of sociology, theorized that performing rituals created and sustained social solidarity. Our political rituals are an absolute contrast. They are nothing more than empty mechanical routines, a refuge from the many problems that plague us today.

Plato, Burke and Nietzsche theorized that democracy was a sham. French author and revolutionary, Georges Sorel, wrote that "Government by a mass of the citizens has never been anything but a fiction". Proudhon, a French philosopher and politician, was even more critical. He said: "How could universal suffrage reveal the thought, the real thought, of the people divided by inequality of fortunes into classes subordinate one to the other and voting either through servility or through hate; when this same people, held in restraint by authority, is incapable notwithstanding its sovereignty of expressing its ideas on anything; and when the exercise of its rights is limited to choosing, every three or four years, its chiefs and its impostors?"

Our elected governments, far from being a touted triumph of democracy, have been synonymous with corruption and cronyism. Instead of practicing the principles of honest and just governance, we have been ruthlessly exposed to the worst possible features of politics and democracy. It is almost impossible to reform a political system in the choke hold of a corrupt elite. The present NRO dispensation has outdone all. It has made a mockery of all the institutions, more so the legislature and the judiciary. A leadership prone to self-interest, personal enrichment and emotional blackmail, along with a largely non-participatory electorate has been the bane of our democracy.

Assembly sessions, walk-outs and cabinet meetings, mere rituals, have become acronyms of our sham democracy; parliamentary resolutions and verbose, mere rhetoric. Today, politicians, more so the rulers, go through these rituals and rhetoric trying to create an imagined world of control and well-being. This is designed to play on public emotions by portraying an image of empathy, concern and piety of the political choreographer. Any untoward incident, of which we have many, evokes condemnation first from Islamabad or London. This TV ticker parade, a heartless ritual, then bumbles from Khyber to Mehran.

Curt warnings of dealing with those who challenge the writ of the state with an iron hand are aplenty. The state only takes "notice" when the media splashes the usual images on the screen: post-violence rounds of verbal condemnations exchanged by politicians, aerial views to assess damage after calamities, photo-op visits to see the post-bomb explosion wounded, formation of committees, ordering of enquiries, calling for reports, laying of chadors at graves; the list has staggeringly increased over the years.

The waters turn even murkier with a platoon of political "quaideen" promising "good" for the nation. Solon, an Athenian statesman and poet, may have envisioned our present predicament all those years ago when he said: "No more good must be attempted than the nation can bear."

Politics, as a rule, has some fundamental principles. These are honesty, dedication, and a demonstrated will to serve the people. Our politics lacks this basic set of rules. It is an embodiment of mere rituals and rhetoric. Evolving from a one-off habit to a total abdication of principles and responsibility, it has become a farcical display of hypocrisy and deceit. An allegory for the political mindset and our national apathy, this culture has become a transparent charade with neither the politicians nor the people believing in it.

Today in Jinnah's Pakistan we have a ritual and rhetoric charade created to obscure the darker realities of our collective lives. The beastly Sialkot, Kharotabad and Karachi killings epitomize our alarming regression as a society. It is also the trickle-down effect of a virtually unaccountable Executive. Created by the blood of millions, we share a common identity. Ironically, loyalty to such an identity is neither intrinsic nor unbreakable. It has to be earned by the legitimacy of ruling institutions; more important, by the part the nation plays to ensure the same.

Greed and covetousness was once the hallmark of a few; today it has replaced political ideology. Tragically, the country is at the mercy of these politicians. An even greater travesty is that they are interlocked in an insatiable lust of wealth and power. The business of governing has become a business for personal gains. The scam is brazen, the utter impunity frighteningly stark. Meanwhile, all we, the nation, do is ponder the Shakespearean quote, "Is it not strange that desire should so many years outlive performance?" The greatest tragedy of this sham democracy might yet be the silent submission of the masses, ensuring that desire outlives performance.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:







A roomy, stone and wood, house built at a charming site in the Himalayan Mountains at Ayubia has been awaiting its owner for the last several years. 'I have not seen anyone entering this house during the last six years. A young man calling himself a close relation of the owner visited a couple of years ago but he had forgotten to bring along the keys,' a shabbily dressed man wearing a wry smile on his dark face and tasked with the look after of half a dozen houses in that locality informed in response to a perfunctorily made enquiry.

The tales of a majority of houses on the hilltop in Ayubia are similar to the one mentioned above. The prodigal owners appear to have forgotten all about their fetishes and the rigours involved with their acquisitions.

The mere sight of those capacious structures forces one to think how many thousands of tonnes of concrete and steel must have been transported up the steep and treacherous inclines, in coughing and smoke belching trucks, and at what exorbitant cost, to give shape to the ambitions of the nouveau riche. Again, how many trees must have been uprooted to comply with the atrocious whims of the architects of these villas.

One would never really be able to convince the owners, planners and builders of those tall buildings on the mountaintops of the rationality of having a small unit. One may own a vast piece of land in these climes but may still need only a cozy little house for one's short sojourns here.

But with plenty of idle money and an irreversible plunge in the Vanity Fair, such considerations do not find many takers in our milieu. The continuous din of the hammer striking against the rock and tin ricocheting across the length of Ayubia goes to show how man would never cease offending nature.

Ayubia must have been immensely beautiful when it was called 'Ghora Dacca' both by the British and the locals, but it has since been battered beyond recognition. There was an aura of romanticism about it in that period that lasted till the early 80s. These days everything on the mountaintop and its adjoining hill stations looks so predictable. This realisation gained intensity on the evening of June 5, World Environment Day, when the picnickers had left for their homes leaving behind loads of garbage comprising plastic bottles, tetra packages, polythene bags and plumes of dust kicked up by their speeding vehicles.

There seem to be many development authorities, of sorts, entrusted with the care of these areas. One, however, found that these authorities seemed content in putting their initials on the garbage bins and placing these where picnickers assembled. A young hotelier who had placed one such bin had a naïve solution for the disposal of the garbage. 'We throw the garbage collected in the bins down the slopes to be consumed either by fire or the scavengers,' the man from the plains informed with confidence. In places like Swat, Naran, and Kaghan, rivers serve as the natural repositories for the disposal of waste.

It is an unmitigated tragedy to see people carrying the so called 'mineral water' in plastic bottles in the mountains where once springs sprouted out of every crevice. There are still some springs to be found in Ayubia, but these appear to have been diverted for use in the public toilets.

There appears to be no end to the dispiriting journey through Murree amid the sound of water cascading down the hills that turned out to be grimy brown filth laden refusal, probably from hundreds of sewers.

In the past, these hill stations served as hideouts for voracious readers basking in the solitude of the mountains; and on a smaller scale for harmless boozers. A new generation headed by the rapacious chicken eaters could now be seen relentlessly surveying the chickens hanging wantonly by hooks in the filthy bazaars.

Sir James Goldsmith in his famous book 'The Trap,' called industrially produced chicken a deathtrap set for the human race. Scheming entrepreneurs in Pakistan seem to be out to prove the late Mr Goldsmith right. Better climate has enticed them to set up their poultry farms on the scenic mountain slopes and on the sides of running streams thus posing a veritable threat to the well-being of the human race. Chicken entrails sprawled all over the slopes in Ayubia testify to the existence of this threat.

'Forests are for men and not vice versa,' a friend and a consummate forester recalls an adage attributed to an English forester in the heat of the arguments. The gentleman considers cutting down old trees – which he calls wolf trees for stunting the growth of the newly planted saplings – to allow the growth of new trees. But this textbook rhetoric is unlikely to save us from the catastrophe being unleashed by the phenomenal changes in climate. Last year's floods tell us how badly we need the wolves to save us from the evil spells of floods.

The glass may still be half full. There are wolf trees here with trunks big enough to accommodate a class of 30 students. Ayubia needs to be steadied to protect these trees before the next World Environment Day rolls around.









The writer is a former ambassador hailing from FATA.

Most of the tribal areas in Pakistan were created by the British for the furtherance of their colonial interests, not for the welfare of the residents of the areas. These interests were best served by the draconian Frontier Crimes Regulations. Why that system has been retained after independence and that too in the name of the tribesmen is beyond comprehension.

The one-line explanation in official documents for the continuation of the system is that the tribesmen themselves wanted to retain it. This explanation wilts under close scrutiny when one sees that the only role it played was to keep Fata poor and isolated from the rest of country. Even if the explanation is true, when did individual jirgas in the seven tribal agencies take place to decide this important question? Or a collective Grand Jirga of all tribesmen, in which case, where was it held? Or were a few handpicked Maliks, receiving monetary benefits from the state, quietly taken to the Governor's House in Peshawar to endorse a decision already taken for the tribesmen by outsiders?

The tribesmen did have reservations about the extension of the laws of the land to their area, and they still have them, but these had nothing to do with retention of the old colonial system. Their reservations have valid reasons. They are used to quick justice under their tribal culture, whereas the procedure under the laws of the land is lengthy, lethargic and has a prohibitive cost.

The daily perpetration of heinous crimes in the settled districts of the country where women are paraded naked in villages in broad daylight, their brothers lynched by mobs and custodians of the law resort to targeted killings of innocent people makes the tribesmen despise the "thana" (police station) culture. Their customs and traditions are in no way any hurdle to good governance or a threat to the security of the nation. It is another matter that outsiders ruling that area do not understand that system and consider it anachronistic.

Except for a few, all governors of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa belonged to the province, but not to Fata itself. Still, they were not conversant with the problems or lifestyle of the people they were ruling, which is why they could not contribute anything to the development of that area. Distinguished political and military personalities like Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao, Arbab Sikander Khan Khalil, Nasirullah Baber, Aslam Khattak, and Fazal-e-Haque failed to develop Fata simply because they were not from that area and did not understand how the people of Fata valued their own customs and traditions. These governors wanted to do things in the tribal areas as they were used to doing them in the settled districts. That is where the fault lay and this is exactly what happens to our military officers in that area even today. Had that responsibility been given to tribesmen, or even shared with them, things would have been totally different by now.

After 9/11, all hell broke loose on the tribesmen for no fault of theirs and this state of affairs continues to this day. They are punished for crimes not committed by them but are still moved out of their homes to become IDPs in their own country. They have never been associated with policy formulation for Fata or its implementation in that area. They have no representation in any provincial assembly (Khyber-Paktunkhwa and Balochistan are Fata's immediate neighbour). Nor are their representatives in the National Assembly and Senate allowed to play any meaningful political role.

Policies for Fata are made by outsiders based in Islamabad and Rawalpindi and implemented through their proxies in the area. Others decide whether to launch military operations and whether to continue drone attacks in Fata. The tribesmen have no say whatsoever in such matters of life and death. Their wrong policies have brought Fata to the brink of disaster. These proxies have neither delivered in the past nor will they do so in the future because they never bothered to grasp the importance of the tribal customs and traditions in handling disputes in that area. Fata, like any other area, cannot be ruled from outside or developed without the cooperation of the people living there. But the principle of people's participation followed in most countries in the world is missing in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

It is high time that we considered this aspect and gave due role to the tribesmen, particularly in matters concerning their own areas, if we are serious about taking Fata out of the quagmire it is stuck in. There is no short cut or alternative.

The indifferent and callous attitude of our leaders is responsible for some of the hurting questions that every tribesman asks himself; are tribesmen considered loyal and sincere citizens of this country? Are they born to be governed by others through the inhuman and un-Islamic laws of the FCR? Are they born to be deprived of the basic rights to education and health which other citizens in the country enjoy at their doorsteps? Are they born to carry their sick and wounded to hospitals in far-flung parts of the country? Are they born to be looked down upon as terrorists despite rendering tremendous sacrifices for the country?

For a system to correct itself and redress the grievances of the people, 63 years is a long enough period. In Pakistan we have not bothered to correct the system, otherwise Fata would not have deteriorated to the condition in which it is today while the rest of the country has grown and, in comparison to Fata, developed by leaps and bounds since independence. Instead of taking corrective measures even now the government ignores the area. treating people in that region as guinea pigs for testing its various weapon systems on them.

It is high time we started listening to the people of that area. They are not that ignorant or illiterate as many have thought of them earlier. They are fully capable of shouldering any responsibility anywhere in the country leave alone solving the problems faced by them in their own area. Let us trust them, give them responsibility and make them masters of their own fate.

The old colonial system needs to be revamped to empower people to govern themselves like their brothers do in other provinces of the country. They should then decide to scrap, retain, or make changes, in the FCR in accordance with their own customs and traditions. If Gilgit and Baltistan can be given the status of a province despite being a disputed territory under the UN resolution on Kashmir, what stops the government from granting the same status to Fata? If all the people in the country have the right to govern themselves, what is wrong with the inhabitants of Fata that they are denied this right. It already has the prerequisites of a province with a separate secretariat, well defined geographical boundaries and separate set of rules for governance.

The people of the tribal agencies have all lived together under the FCR for far too long and amply understand each other's difficulties. They have suffered together for decades under the dictates of others. Now they are at the end of their tether and no longer have any patience or stomach for the recipes prescribed for them by ignorant administrators sitting far away. They want to look after themselves like the other citizens of the country. They have to be given their due rights if we want them to come out of the Dark Ages in which they are living today. It is up to us to decide whether to let them develop their area and live in peace or to keep them backward to be a threat to themselves and the country as a whole.








 "To lead the people," the Chinese sage Lao Tzu advised some 2,500 years ago, "walk behind them." Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done both admirably. He walked behind the people to read their aspirations and, at the same time, provided strong leadership on a broad range of national issues. The Turkish people gave a resounding endorsement of his policies and governance in Sunday's elections by electing his Justice and development Party (AKP) for the third time and with a decisive majority. In a massive turnout (84 5 percent), the electorate gave the AKP 50 percent of the vote, which translated into 325 seats in a parliament of 550 MPs. The Republican People's Party (CHP) received 26 percent of the vote and 135 seats and the Nationalist Movement Party, MHO, ended up with 13 percent and 26 seats. The Peace and Democracy (BDS) fielded its candidates as "independents" and 39 of them got elected.

Under Turkish law, political parties need at least 10 percent of the vote to be represented in parliament. In his passionate campaign, Erdogan repeatedly spoke of the need to amend the Turkish constitution. He can do it unilaterally if the AKP can muster the required vote or, more likely, with the present party strength, by negotiating the additional step of endorsing the reforms by referendum. In his first comment he has said that the constitution would be changed through "consensus."

By 1990s, Turkey was witnessing a large internal migration from villages to the major cities. The distinctly religious migrants were a caravan of faith heading back to the cities, especially Istanbul. Rapid unbanisation was a double-edged sword. It could become a major factor of instability if Turkey did not progress exponentially. Erdogan presided over rapid, often consumption-driven, reforms and an unprecedented growth in Turkey's external trade. It diversified trade especially with Russia, the Middle East and Africa and should soon be at a point where it would be more in the interest of the European Union to invite Turkey in rather than condescendingly hand over lists of requirements to it to join. In its first term of office, AKP developed a "communitarian-liberal" economy, "an intermediate way between the extremes of freedom and regulation." The objective was to balance economic growth with distributive justice. This strategy connected AKP to the Islamic voters who were disillusioned with the old established parties.

Erdogan understood well how and why earlier "Islamic" parties" that sought to channel the Muslim reaction to the excesses of the Kemalist secularists had foundered upon the rock of a powerful Westernised political class backed by the army's own secularism. As the mayor of Istanbul, Erdogan had demonstrated that a cultural reassertion of Islam need not be acrimonious. This is why a confrontation with secularists was not his first priority. He wanted to demonstrate that a multi-party Islamic democracy would work in Turkey. The state under him did not embark upon a proselytising mission but allowed an environment of a free examination of Islam in the context of Turkey's modernity.

AKP rule was not without a hiccup or two caused by the military's reservations about Erdogan, but he remained mindful of the past sensitivities of the armed forces while using people power to restrain their interventionist habit. A triumphant Edogan is now poised to carry out far-reaching constitutional reforms. Hardcore secularists are alarmed; so are Turkey's Western friends, who did not really want the AKP to win so handsomely. Once again, Erdogan should be expected to prove them wrong with his penchant for calibrated action. Turkey has decided well.

The writer is a former ambassador and foreign secretary of Pakistan. Email: katanvir@








BOMB blasts and suicide attacks have become order of the day and no part of the country is immune to this syndrome but Monday's attack in I-8 Sector of Islamabad bears testimony to the fact that the problem has assumed new and dangerous dimensions. Thanks to the supreme sacrifice offered by the security guard Muhammad Bashir, the attempt by the suicide bomber to enter the building was thwarted, otherwise the damage would have been much greater. The announcement of Interior Minister Rehman Malik to confer gallantry award "Sitara-e-Jurrat" on the martyred guard is appreciable and it would help motivate others to exercise greater vigilance and similar spirit to foil designs of terrorists.

Extraordinary security measures are in place in the Federal Capital and perhaps because of this there was no such unfortunate incident in Islamabad for over one year. We have been witnessing gory incidents like target killing of civilian as well as military personnel, the latest being Minister for Minorities, but no bomb blast or suicide attack took place during this period. The Government has been claiming since long that the back of the terrorists has been broken and they are now on the run but their ability to penetrate the well-secured city and target a plaza in one of the busiest sectors of the capital speaks volumes about their strength and reach. Close-circuit video showed that the terrorist was dropped by a white vehicle that disappeared afterwards, which means they are still well-organized and have the skill to dodge the security apparatus. It is true that the authorities concerned have already put in place elaborate security arrangements and the Government is not expected to deploy security personnel in every street, road and markets but there is definitely need to review the entire counter-terrorist strategy in view of the ground realities. We have been emphasizing in these columns that militancy and terrorism cannot be crushed merely with use of force, instead this solution triggers more violence and resentment. Though they are not acknowledging it publicly but a visible shift in their policy clearly shows that the United States and NATO occupation forces have learnt the same lesson as they are now contacting different groups of Taliban in a bid to restore semblance of normalcy in Afghanistan. There is, therefore, need to review the policy here as well and initiate dialogue at least with, what is being described by some circles, good Taliban.








IT is strange that the crisis of petrol that has hit the largest province of the country is perpetuating and complicating instead of mitigating with the passage of each day. This reflects poorly on the ability of the Government to address a problem that has multiplied woes of the people who are already hard pressed due to shortage of electricity and gas.

Life stands almost paralysed in the entire Punjab especially in big cities where long queues of vehicles are seen at petrol pumps but after wasting hours many of them return empty handed. Apart from Punjab, the shortage is now also being faced in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and people are being fleeced mercilessly by petrol pumps that are charging exorbitantly from consumers. The shortage has reportedly occurred due to sudden and abrupt closure of a platform at the Attock Oil Refinery that caters to nearly half of the requirements in Punjab but inability to foresee the problem and lack of strategy to address it on priority basis is highly regrettable. The Government must go into the issue deeply as it might have something to do with its decision to deregulate prices of petrol with companies trying to manipulate prices through engineered shortage, as we have been witnessing in the case of sugar for the last several years. There are also serious questions as to why the distribution companies have not been able to increase their storage capacity despite enjoying incentives for the purpose. Apart from taking measures to address the prevailing crisis, the Government must also devise a long term policy to accelerate the pace of exploration of oil and gas activities in the country. In the past, the Government came out with attractive incentives for off-shore and on-shore drilling but there is a sort of lull during tenure of the present regime.







GERMANY has recognised Libya's rebel council as the legitimate representative of the people thus lending support to the leaders opposing Muammar Gaddafi. The recognition, announced by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on a visit to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi is significant because Germany has been reluctant to be drawn into the Libyan conflict and opted out of NATO military action.

Uprising in Libya is going on for the last four months and despite massive bombing by the US and NATO aircraft and other support in cash and arms, the rebels have not been able to gain control of any other major city. This practice of recognizing rebels of any country as legitimate representatives of the people is a dangerous precedence and runs against the civilized conduct and UN Charter. Germany is a democracy and respected by big and small countries for its stance on major world issues. But by recognising the rebels who are restricted to just one Libyan city of Bengazi, would give encouragement to small groups in many countries to take up arms against elected and unelected governments and create further turmoil the world over. According to observers of the Libyan situation, everything is possible in Gadhafi's capital Tripoli. Buildings shake at night when NATO bombs blow up the regime's bunkers. Controlling capital Tripoli is the key to governing Libya, but more is at stake than just Tripoli. The conflict revolves around the question of whether Libya could turn into another Somalia, with the West becoming embroiled in a war that it might not be able to win. Americans were forced to withdraw from Somali and the same is going to happen in Afghanistan and perhaps, a similar situation would emerge in Libya as Gaddafi and his forces are not going to surrender and fight to the last. So the recognition by Germany by following foot steps of France and Italy demonstrates that if the major powers decide for a certain course of action, they feel free to trample international norms and when the situation goes out of their control, they just withdraw and leave the people to fight among themselves and no government worth the name to restore stability.








Our suspicions about ill-designs of USA and its strategic allies Israel and India concerning Pakistan 's nuclear program are now turning into reality. President Ahmadinejad's recent statement that USA has evil designs against our nuclear program has further heightened our anxieties. Psychological war on our nuclear program was ignited by US government and Jewish controlled think tanks and media sometime in 2004 and became more and more vicious with each passing year. Pakistan 's nuclear program was made to look unsafe after overplaying threat of terrorism, which was also inflamed by USA and its allies by invading and occupying Afghanistan and then deliberately pushing terrorism into Pakistan .

While launching of military operations by the Army in Waziristan at the behest of USA led to emergence of Pakistani Taliban, two drone attacks in Bajaur Agency in 2006 instilled hatred against the Army particularly when October strike on a seminary killing 80 students was wrongly owned by the Army. Brutal military action against inmates of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafza in July 2007 triggered recruitment of young Taliban. It also ignited spate of suicide bombings in cities. Thereon, it became easy for the senior members of TTP to motivate young boys aged 12-16 years to become suicide bombers.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) established in December 2007 under deceased Baitullah Mehsud, which has its tentacles in all seven tribal agencies as well as in settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Swat, Malakand, South Punjab, Pashtun belt of Balochistan and its long arm can reach any part of Pakistan is of chief concern for Pakistan but of no concern to USA. Several foreign agencies are providing massive funds, weapons, equipment, explosives, training facilities, guidance and manpower reinforcements from Afghan soil to TTP since they desire this force to possibly defeat or as a minimum contain bulk of Army.

But for foreign support in huge quantities, it would not have been possible for the TTP to rebound after its backbone had been broken in the two decisive battles of Bajaur and South Waziristan in 2009. Footprints of foreign hands were clearly seen in all the regions that were recaptured from the militants. In the Bajaur battle which raged from July 2008 till February 2009, large number of Tajik and Uzbek fighters used to supplement Maulana Faqir's force. Even now Afghans are involved in Mohmand Agency and in Dir. Once the main bases of militants were dismantled and its leaders sought refuge in Afghanistan , the conspirators then shifted terrorism to major cities. This was made possible after the induction of Blackwater in 2008. Several security companies like Dyncorps cropped up in capital cities. Dozens of militant groups affiliated with TTP and al-Qaeda and linked with Blackwater are wreaking havoc in cities.

While the people have not come out of the shock of two attacks in May, the foreign and local media is adding to their apprehensions by floating rumor balloons of despondency and trying to undermine the capabilities of armed forces. An impression is being created that the military is incapable of safeguarding our vital interests. Great majority in Pakistan distrusts USA and suspect that it will again strike Pakistan to denuclearize it. They are not convinced with John Kerry assurances that the US is not interested in Pak nukes particularly after NATO Secretary General's statement that it is the collective responsibility of international community to secure nuclear assets of Pakistan.


Despite multi-layered system of security evolved by Pakistan which is second to none, doubts are still being aired by vested interests that Pakistan 's nuclear program is unsafe and needs to be secured before they fall into wrong hands. Although our leaders are claiming that no harm can befall upon our strategic assets, in my humble view the threat is of different nature about which our policy makers have given no thought. Their eyes are fixed on local terrorists about whom the US is repeatedly ringing alarm bells.

The biggest threat is not from US or Indo-Israeli direct assault, or from local terrorists who are anti-American, but from foreign backed terrorists trained to undertake special operations, like the ones against GHQ and Mehran Base. Another possible dangerous threat is from pro-American elements or sympathizers of foreign sponsored terrorists working inside nuclear setups who may be bribed to steal fissile material and fuses and pass them on to wrong people. One must not forget that CIA had been able to buy the loyalties of several scientists working in a nuclear plant in 1990s. Brig Imtiaz working in ISI had busted the band on the payroll of CIA, after he accidentally found out from a girl ditched by one of the scientists belonging to this group.

I am certain that the heavy CIA network established in Pakistan since 2010 must be continuing with its efforts to cultivate scientists, officials and security guards employed in sensitive organizations. The theme of nukes falling in hands of religious extremists was purposely floated to provide smoke screen to its own covert actions. USA , Israel and India are the actual thieves bent upon stealing or destroying our nukes. Varieties of contingencies have been prepared to destroy, steal or overpower the arsenal. The noose has been sufficiently tightened and the thieves have prowled closer to the intended sites and believably have stealthily encircled them.

After performing the gory act, irrespective of marginal success or complete failure, red alert will be sounded and the whole blame put on al-Qaeda/affiliated groups. The UN and the world will be ready to accept US contention since the latter has already poisoned the minds of world power centers. Our rulers too would promptly blame local militant groups. The UN will then come into action and will seek immediate closure of our nuclear program and demand transfer of all the nukes along with fissile material to safer location outside Pakistan .

With regard to the last option of destruction by drones and bombers, or physical occupation by US Special Forces, complete homework has been done. The only thing left is to decide the date and time. In my reckoning, this reckless option may coincide with final phase of withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan . God forbid, if our adversaries succeed in their evil designs, that will be day of mourning for Pakistan and a day of rejoicing for USA, western world, Israel and India.

Pakistan Army managed to get out of the deathtrap laid by its adversaries in Swat and South Waziristan . USA has now prepared another deadly deathtrap in North Waziristan and is once again trying to lure in Pak Army with a hope that this time it will get trapped. It is only when major portion of our combat divisions get embroiled in the war in northwest that India will make its Cold Start doctrine operational on the weakened eastern front. 5/2 and 5/22 incidents have already helped our adversaries in creating despondency, in discrediting armed forces and intelligence agencies and in spoiling civil-armed forces relations. Economically, Pakistan has become dependent upon IMF and US aid. Politically it is polarized and dysfunctional. Socially the society stands divided. Pakistan has been brought to this abysmal situation under an orchestrated program to make it helpless.

While I pray that our security forces are able to thwart hostile attempts made on our nuclear arsenal and delivery means and are able to safeguard the frontiers against foreign aggression under such insalubrious environments, what I am worried is that we have still not identified our foes and taken preventive measures. Unless we guard against the designs of our foes pretending to be friends, we will not be able to confront the worst threat which is looming over Pakistan's horizons.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst.








Afghan – American war is running in eleventh year now and is so far the longest war in the US history. I am sure many big historians must be busy searching for the real causes of this war, irrespective of the specifics provided by the rulers to commence this heinous venture, to be put on record for the future generations to know the truth. The details that followed this conflict where millions of innocent human lives were lost, who had nothing to do with any of the evil deeds planned by none other than their own leaders. They were simply a collateral damage of the whims of some of these devils playing with the lives of those who had elected to accept their command voluntarily.

9/11 was a bombshell being planned for a long time and was implemented when the emotions were high and men of authority could be easily misled and misdirected towards the clash of faith and societies. The evil planners only needed a person like Mr. Bush who probably already possessed these germs to initiate turmoil in the world to register his name like his old friend Hitler. He framed charges to attack Afghanistan and forced Gen. Musharaf of Pakistan to join so that later on Pakistan was included to this process of destruction. Iraq was falsely dragged into such an operation through the fraud reports about WMD (weapons of mass destruction). This whole thing was probably part of the plan conceived by a few to accrue benefit out of this power play.

Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan in 1989 by Allah, the almighty, through insignificant crowd of Osama Bin Laden, Afghan Mujahideen selected out of the refugees and of course pick of Pakistan Army to train organize and plan all operations. In the beginning the Indians and others thought it was a joke to face this mighty force with a small group of riffraff. But when results started taking control of the situation in favour of resistance, everyone was astonished to experience this miracle. India was the only country in the free world supporting the Soviets, not for their love or success but to see Pakistan humiliated and crushed, and they kept attached to their expectations till the end. They thought Pakistan was in front of the tornado and would soon be trampled but 'man proposes and God disposes'. The situation soon developed to see Pakistan in the driving seat and Soviets going back shattered and disintegrated. Mr. Bush of course knew this reality like a Gospel truth, but always kept India in the list of beneficiary in spite of their conspiratorial attributes. When Soviets were defeated India became more apprehensive about Pakistan's ability and capacity. They started planning the new strategy to continue their gambit against Pakistan in cahoots with America.

American leadership sometimes behaves like an absolute naïve while implying things towards their bias without proper investigation and political scrutiny. I don't think they review the history while dealing with other people/nations. People go through the pedigree even while playing dog and horse races. The British strictly believed in this, and in India always went through the pedigree even selecting the soldiers in their army. The Americans may be shy of their past when most of the undesirables were forced to immigrate out of Europe to America. Mr. Bush presumably played in the hands of India to attack Afghanistan without carrying out a proper research. He totally ignored Pakistan's suggestion to negotiate with Taliban government for a suitable outcome, but instead forced Gen. Musharaf to join in the war with a bogey of Indian false intensions of teaming up. The foolish General gave in and made Pakistan to suffer for the last ten years without acknowledgment and realization from America for our complete economic collapse and tremendous loss of life. India is still pursuing the same strategy and has established at least six consulates between Mazar-e-Sharif and Kandahar with the connivance of America to destabilize Pakistan in Baluchistan and tribal areas. It is specifically done so that Pakistan is kept away from claiming Kashmir and China is deprived of any support in this region. The Americans must know that the people of Pakistan are aware of such malicious designs. On top of this America pressurized Pakistan to accept ground trade links with Afghanistan through India. How can people of Pakistan reconcile from within when they see a partisan behaviour and action from a friend towards our enemy.

Unfortunately America is playing the Indian game because of the China bogey or otherwise. However, I think America knows that India is one of the major players indirectly responsible for stretching this war in Afghanistan to damage Pakistan. Let it be known to both that it is neither in the hands of India nor America to accomplish this task. The one who created this country has the responsibility to protect and keep it going. It is not a myth but a belief like American reality of 1492.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind including America that Indians are financing the Baloch youth to revolt against the government and every now and then there are acts of sabotage, bombing government assets, killing and looting in the province. After all from where this huge quantity of arms and ammunition, ration, and other support equipment coming from, it is either Indian or American provisions. Someone has to catch the truth and put an end to this bluff of hypocrisy.

Al Qaeda is another bluff causing serious tensions and future visionary security hazards to America. Its basic aim was to fight for the cause of Palestinians against Israel but it has been so cunningly misconstrued by Israel and American Jews towards reflecting perpetual danger to America and her people. The American leadership has been so dubiously led to accept it as a truth for their survival. The Jews have so cleverly ingrained this concept that there seems no place left in American brain cells to notice the deadly germs implanted by this alien agency to disrupt their peaceful life and in turn the lives of the other half of the world. The Americans have unfortunately made it mandatory on themselves to support Israel against poor Palestinians. If they had so much of love for the Jews they should not have allowed Europeans to export them to grab a foreign land in the Middle East. However there were some saner elements like PM (late) Yitzhak Rabin who wanted to make up but was assassinated by the Jews themselves to ditch the Oslo accord and Mr. Clinton's plan of establishing peace failed thereafter. Mr. Bush then took over and made monkey deal out of the justice, like he manoeuvred his own election results with Mr. Al Gore. It is time for Americans for a fresh evaluation of the Palestinian problem with a just mind to conclude.

Otherwise the influential Jews who kept leading them towards their own Juke-box and steered them towards 9/11, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The point to note is that the tree of terrorism was initially planted at Palestine by Europe and later promoted by America in the whole of Middle East. This very tree has become a jungle and exported to half of the world. It needs to be re-examined and checked otherwise it will eat up the grower and the users. The road to peace starts from Jerusalem and passes through Tel Aviv to Gaza and everyone should be entitled to use it without paying any toll tax. There is no other legitimate route. The Jews have the choice to accept it now or after hundred years. The best for them is to learn from South Africa and enjoy the world now. There is no wisdom in going back to Europe after hundred years.

The American leadership must realize the destruction they have caused their own innocent people and their so-called enemies from a false alarm and baseless excuse of 9/11. No one can finish America as long as her three hundred million people are awake, her fifty states are intact and their charity for the poor world persists.








The Government of the Day (GD) - political authority and style of the government- is dominating the rights of Pakistan, which is a stark violation of country's constitution. This democratic colonization is resulting in standoffs with judiciary, parliament and the establishment (bureaucracy and military). It is also effecting country's economy, foreign policy, security, and law and order. Moreover, it is allowing foreign meddling in national affairs. Unless, political authority and style of government is scaled back to 33 percent, as per its envisaged constitutional share in state affairs, Pakistan's judiciary and establishment cannot discharge their constitutional, administrative and national duties. Thus, the challenge of today's Pakistan is to govern it in accordance to its constitution instead of democratic colonization of state by the politicians so that country regains control of its economy, sovereignty and security interests.

Political authorities have failed to uphold its democratic obligations. They have failed to bring changes for which people voted in 2008 general elections. They are continuing with Musharraf era economic and foreign policies including support of America's so-called war against terrorism (SWAT), illegal Afghan occupation by US led NATO forces and their supplies from Pakistan, which are undermining Pakistan's national interests and public's safety. They have failed to uphold two unanimous resolutions of the Parliament to review Pak-US relations. Similarly, it is continuing with Kerry-Lugar Bill despite objections by the public, military establishment and the media. The Lahore US-spy incident and other serious violations of national security including controversial issuance of 7000 visas have shown that continuation of K-L Bill is an anti-state act. It merits to be scrapped immediately to restore public safety and national sovereignty and security. The permission for drone attacks has already tainted country's international image.

As the equal stake holder of protecting national interests of the state, military as part of establishment has categorically asked the political leadership through ISPR press release about Corp Commanders Conference that Pak-US military-to-military relationship have to be reassessed afresh in the backdrop of 2nd May incident as well as the dictates of the Joint Parliamentary Resolution passed on 14th May 2011. In this regard, aspirations of the people of Pakistan also need to be taken into account. In line with the demands of these important factors, Army has drastically cut down the strength of US troops stationed in Pakistan. Therefore, it is the democratic obligation of the political authorities to uphold public aspirations of rationalizing and minimizing Pak-US relations to end illegal Afghan occupation. Pakistan has to stop NATO's supply line to win hearts of Afghan public and in return make Pakistan safe.

However, the media report to levy transit fee on NATO tankers (local news, June 11) shows that political leaders have no plan to uphold their democratic obligations to end dictator's pro-US policies. On the contrary, attacks on Pakistan's security installations and other terrorist attacks are being spun as justifications for supporting SWAT and illegal Afghan occupation. A careful review of attacks on Pakistan's security installations will clearly show that they are part of tactics to protect West's strategic objectives in the region, keep puppet regimes and unpopular governments in place. The timing of Naval Base attack, like GHQ, was also aimed to "neutralize" voice of military representing state interests seeking an independent foreign policy in line with democratic aspirations of the public so that west cannot realize its objectives in the region. The experts are of the view that they including permanent occupation of the Afghanistan, containment of China, control of energy routes linking ME, Europe and CARS, and denuclearizing Pakistan and decimating Iran.

PM lauded start of US brokered Pak-Afghan Trade Agreement (PATA) and RoZs during Karzai's visit. History shows that it will undermine Pakistan's national and geo-strategic interests. In December 2004, Egypt signed a controversial agreement with Israel and the United States, which allowed the establishment of the Qualifying Industrial Zones (QIZ). This guaranteed some Egyptians products to enter the US market duty-free on the condition that a minimum percentage of their imports to be of Israeli origin. Cairo was obliged to sell gas to Tel-Aviv 40 percent below market rate. Despite protests by the public and the other organs of the state, our political government has adopted disputed PATA. As part of their democratic and constitutional obligations, political leaders should restore the 1963 PATA to protect Pakistan's economic, energy and security interests in the region. The Egyptian court has scrapped the controversial gas deal and court has given 30-year jail term to Mubarrak's finance Minister for adopting anti-state policies during his stay in office.

PM announced plans for developing rail and road networks with Afghanistan. Earlier, it was Turkmenistan gas pipeline. Pakistan must understand that in wake of energy stakes in the region, national economic and security interests should determine priority of the such projects instead of foreign dictations. PM should clearly tell the nation about the progress on Pak-China rail and road links and give timeline of Gwadar becoming fully operational. Afghan occupation in the name of SWAT is in fact part of America's Western Pacific based foreign policy objective to carve its market and military stakes in the Asia. Pakistan should therefore protect its interests with China and Russia because they are leading players in the region and gateway to Europe. Islamabad by adopting Pak-China-Russia route can become part of the "Golden Age of Asia". This alternate route will leave Washington, Delhi and Kabul isolated.

Accordingly, Pakistan should make it a strategic priority to protect Pak-China-Russia road and rail links to protect its national interests. In this regard there is need to further secure the northern areas of with permanent military presence, political changes and social incentives. Pakistan needs to be mindful of Washington's use of military bases in Okinawa (Japan) and Philippines, which it is occupying since 1897. They are being used to challenge one China policy and keep a foothold in Asian waters. The timing of sinking of South Korea's military naval vessel is self-explanatory. It derailed the proposed Sunshine Act meeting aiming to unify both Koreas. The clearance of Pakistani-American in Mumbai attack shows shows that it was staged to derail peace in the region. Delhi needs to move forward and resolve Kashmir issue as per UN Resolutions so that both nations can sign no war pact. Karachi naval base attack was carried out to end public pressure seeking end of NATO supply through Pakistan. Thus, it is the constitutional responsibility of the judiciary, establishment and media to protect state interests against democratic colonization.

Renewable energy is changing energy and geo-strategic paradigms of the nations. Accordingly, Pakistan needs to follow China, UAE, Saudi Arabia and adopt renewable energy. Beijing's "Sunrise Project" aims to have solar panels in ten million homes, increase installed solar capacity to 10 GWs and bring solar energy to 40 countries in Africa alone (Solar Panels are going to become cheaper, 10 June, China Daily). Pakistan should make renewable energy as its national energy, economic and security objective to have independent economic and foreign policies.

Finally, Pakistan needs to change its foreign policy to uphold public aspiration. NATO supply route and Pak-US cooperation on SWAT should end. Judiciary should play an active role to keep a check on government of the day so that state organs can also exercise their powers and protect the state from collusion of ruling elite and the opposition from incurring irreversible damage to the state through democratic colonization. Pak-China-Russia route should be adopted to protect national and geo-strategic interests. America can help the region by completely withdrawing from Afghanistan immediately, allow true democracies to flourish and restrict its help in form of transfer of modern technology in areas like agriculture, health care, pharmaceuticals, dairy, packaging and food industry.








A fierce power tussle among Panjshiri warlords for control of Northern Afghanistan lay behind the assassination of General Muhammad Daud Daud, who was killed along with Police Chief of Takhar province, Shah Jehan, in a suicide attack in Takhar on 27 May 2011, report well placed sources. Some Afghan officials have however stated that instead of a suicide bomber it was a powerful bomb that was placed in the Governor's house to target Daud, where a high level security meeting of Afghan and NATO officials was in progress at the time of attack.

General Daud was appointed Police Chief of Northern Afghanistan by President Karzai and from among the triumvirate of Panjshiri warlords; Ist Vice President Qaseem Fahim, Doctor Abdullah Abdullah and the ex Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh, only enjoyed the support of Qaseem Faheem. The differences were particularly sharp between Daud and Amrullah Saleh over the issue of leadership of Panjshiri Group which has been a subject of intense rivalry ever since the death of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the charismatic Tajik leader from Northern Afghanistan who had earned the title of the lion of Panjshir, during the period of Afghanistan's occupation by Soviet Union.

Daud opposed the rise of ex RAM Chief Amrullah Saleh within the Northern Afghanistan 's power structure where he was seen to be leaning too close to Indian and Russian interests. Saleh is believed to have hatched the plan to get rid of Daud who was considered by him, and his associates, as a stumbling block in the way of his rise to power.

According to sources 1st Vice President Qaseem Faheem has informed President Karzai that General Daud was assassinated through a combined operation planned by Amrullah Saleh and the Black Water Security Agency.

Governor Balkh, Ustad Atta Mohammad is next on the target list of the influential erstwhile chief spy of Afghanistan , well known for his ruthlessness pursuit of power and pelf.








As best I can recall, I first met Saudi Arabia's Prince Turki al-Faisal at a private home in Washington years ago. I found him stern and humourless, sometimes even bitter. I have seen him since at international conferences and the like — never in the mood for small talk and exhibiting, sometimes in his glorious robes, not an ounce of Bedouin charm. Still, I was unprepared for the opinion column he published in Sunday's Post. It read like a declaration of war.

Prince Turki is not now in the government. Yet he is a member of the Saudi royal family and was once the kingdom's intelligence chief and its former ambassador to both London and Washington. The man is solidly credentialed.

He is also angry as hell, and he lets America have it. He starts by citing what he calls President Obama's "controversial speech last month, admonishing Arab governments to embrace democracy and provide freedom to their populations." Saudi Arabia, he wrote, heard what Obama said and took it "seriously," and he noted, of course, that Obama had not demanded the same rights for Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Point taken.

But the same kingdom that has taken Obama "seriously" is an absolute monarchy that, among other things, bans women from driving cars. It is also a country that offers no freedom of religion but offers, for the occasional criminal, a public beheading. Given that Turki has spent a good deal of time in the West, it's not possible that he was unaware that commentators like me would be picky about the lack of basic freedoms. He doesn't care.

Indeed, that was the point. Turki — and by implication all of Saudi Arabia — has had it with the United States. The kingdom will not be lectured to. It is sick and tired of American favouritism to Israel — the exuberant congressional reception for Binyamin Netanyahu, for example — and the administration's decision to oppose any effort in the United Nations to create a Palestinian state. In this matter, America is doing what Israel wants.

"In September, the kingdom will use its considerable diplomatic might to support the Palestinians in their quest for international recognition," Turki wrote. "American leaders have long called Israel an 'indispensable' ally. They will soon learn that there are other players in the region — not least the Arab street — who are as, if not more, 'indispensable.' The game of favouritism toward Israel has not proven wise for Washington, and soon it will be shown to be an even greater folly."

This is not your usual diplomatic language — and even for Turki it is rough. It shows, though, a not-surprising frustration in the Arab world with American policy tethered for the moment to a quite stubborn and unimaginative Israeli policy. Both countries are suffering from a surfeit of democracy. Israel's governing coalition is held hostage by the right; America's governing coalition is in the same fix.

Turki does not run out of wagging fingers. He says that those who think that the United States and Israel will determine the future of Palestine are dead wrong. "There will be disastrous consequences for US-Saudi relations if the United States vetoes UN recognition of a Palestinian state. It would mark a nadir in the decades-long relationship as well as irrevocably damage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and America's reputation among Arab nations. The ideological distance between the Muslim world and the West in general would widen — and opportunities for friendship and cooperation between the two could vanish." This from our ally, not to mention friendly gas station.

The tone of the column is both remarkable and ominous. It comes, as I said, from a man of little charm, but he is nevertheless a skilled diplomat and intelligence chief. While his vexation over the Palestinian problem is well-known, rarely has it been carried to this extent — and in such a public venue.

A Post opinion column is designed to get the attention of the American government. I'm sure Prince Turki succeeded in that. But I hope he also got the attention of the Israeli government, which for some time now has enjoyed Saudi moderation on the Palestinian question. That seems about to change — not the least because the Arab street that Turki expressly mentioned is demanding it and the Saudis will, if they have to, appease the street. This is the gravamen of Prince Turki's piece and is why he ends it so ominously for Israel: "I'd hate to be around when they face their comeuppance." Courtesy: The Washington Post








LABOR'S luminaries are indulging in a round of self-examination that doesn't seem to be producing solutions.

Like a tedious dinner guest, the party seems to be saying: "Enough about me, what do you think about me?" The ALP is enduring a difficult period, confronting its own political mortality after election losses in Western Australia and Victoria, an annihilation in NSW and, federally, the loss of a prime minister, a parliamentary majority and the party's mojo. Last week's speech by former minister John Faulkner and the article in The Australian today by NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari tackle the issue from different perspectives but seem to arrive at the same place -- a party obsessed with itself.

The answer to Labor's problems surely cannot be found in party structures or internal rules and processes. Granted, it should always look to encourage debate, participation and internal democracy. And, like other parties, it needs to continually work hard to broaden its membership base. But this is not why Julia Gillard is struggling.

Senator Faulkner's talk of activism, and how the workers' party is losing politically motivated people to GetUp! and the Greens, smacks of an attempt by the Left to capitalise on Labor's current woes to shift it further away from the centre. Ms Gillard's lack of authority appears to have emboldened others in the Left, such as senator Doug Cameron, to agitate in caucus for traditional Leftist causes like higher taxes on industry and softer border protection. This path can only make matters worse for the government.

Both Senator Faulkner and Mr Dastyari suggest one way to improve the ALP is to give more people -- non-members included -- a say in how it is run and who it chooses as candidates. It seems heroic, and more than a little self-absorbed, to suggest that a party struggling to convince people to vote for it can find salvation by offering the public a greater say in its internal processes. The party elders might be surprised to know that mainstream Australians are not particularly interested in the machinations of the party. What they are interested in is governments that can manage their affairs with a modicum of competence, show commitment to clear and sensible policies, and remain in touch with the needs and aspirations of the electorate.

So the road to salvation for Labor is probably not to invite non-members to vote in its processes -- after all, if that's what people want they have the option of taking out membership -- but for Labor MPs and staffers to engage with people in the suburbs and workplaces so they can listen and act in accord with the views of the mainstream. If Senator Faulkner and Mr Dastyari were to do this they might discover that there are many Australians who are not rednecks but do have concerns about border security, who are worried about climate change but fail to see how an Australian tax will fix it, who pay their taxes and hate to see money wasted, or who wonder what Ms Gillard stands for and whether she can be trusted. Coming up with responses to these legitimate concerns must be the main challenge for Labor.

Whether decades of poor candidate selection and machine politics have generated the current malaise matters little right now; the issue is that the party seems to be out of touch. Having won government by portraying Kevin Rudd as John Howard-lite, the ALP has lurched to the Left. It promised secure borders but softened the regime and helped to create a dire problem with unauthorised boat arrivals; it promised economic conservatism but has wasted billions in poorly designed and managed stimulus initiatives; and Ms Gillard, who promised there would be no carbon tax, is imposing just such a tax to appease the Greens.

While Labor has run after Bob Brown, pining for the affections of Greens voters, Tony Abbott has pitched his messages firmly at middle Australia. While Labor exits the centre and drifts to the Left, Mr Abbott is visiting factories, supermarkets, building sites and shops almost everyday, staking a solid claim to the mainstream of Australian politics.

The Australian has always believed the centre is where major political parties should build their support and that the Australian people are sufficiently smart to ensure the most sensible policies will hold sway. Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, at their peak, understood voters' common sense. They -- not the impractical idealism of Gough Whitlam -- provided the template for modern Labor. The sooner Ms Gillard and her team realise this, the sooner they will understand they don't need to shift the Australian people back to Labor, they need to move Labor back to mainstream Australians.





IF Queensland's budget was to be judged solely on economic growth and business investment the verdict would be clear-cut: roaring back.

Despite being smashed by the fury of Mother Nature with deadly floods and Cyclone Yasi in summer, business investment grew by 13 per cent this financial year and is set to surge by more than 27 per cent in 2011-12, mainly due to liquefied natural gas, coal and metals projects. As Treasurer Andrew Fraser said yesterday, no other state comes close, with Western Australia forecasting 15 per cent higher business investment. Yesterday's budget was a reality check about the importance of fossil fuels to Australia's economic health. Queensland coal exports will reach a historic high of $55 billion in 2012-13 to meet the soaring energy demands of China and India. LNG, which is cleaner than coal and already provides 15 per cent of Queensland electricity, is becoming more important, with $40bn in investment in the pipeline.

After zero growth in gross state product this year, Queensland is anticipating 5 per cent economic growth over the coming 12 months, the highest in the nation, and it expects to do even better the following year with 5.25 per cent growth. Unemployment is set to fall below 5 per cent.

Faced with such encouraging numbers, it is regrettable that any government would fall back on gimmicky handouts as Mr Fraser has done in doling out $10,000 to all and sundry, millionaire or pauper, who buy any new home for under $600,000 to live in or rent from August 1. The Treasurer claims the bonanza is aimed at increasing new housing stock, something markets do inevitably in response to demand. Perhaps it's mere coincidence that the six-month scheme finishes on February 1, shortly before the state election is due in March, but which could be called later this year.

Offsetting this blatant armful of dollars is an equally blatant revenue grab, which could further dampen Queensland's sluggish property sector. The abolition of the discount currently allowed for principal places of residence will see existing homeowners pay $7000 more in stamp duty when buying another home. The measure will bring Queensland stamp duty closer into line with other states by doubling the duty payable on a $400,000 home. All Queensland residents, however, will benefit from another election sweetener -- abolition of the highly unpopular $113 compulsory ambulance levy currently added to electricity bills.

Largely because of the floods, regaining Queensland's AAA credit rating, which was lost in January 2009, is a five- to 10-year proposition. The budget deficit for 2011-12 is forecast to be $4.06 billion, well up from $2.13bn this year. Without the sale of QR National and the long-term lease of the Abbot Point Coal Terminal and the Port of Brisbane, which the Bligh government had the foresight to complete despite union opposition, the predicament would be dire.

Assisted by 3500 voluntary redundancies, the government will contain the increase in Queensland's public sector wages bill to 5.8 per cent over the coming year. Mr Fraser's policy of limiting wage increases to 2.5 per cent a year until the budget returns to surplus is especially commendable and will allow more frontline staff to be employed in the coming year, including 300 additional teachers and teachers' aides, 150 extra police and 50 extra ambulance officers. By 2014-15 the state's public sector wages bill is projected to be 19 per cent higher than this financial year. Such a projected increase makes wage restraint a must if more frontline staff are to be employed to improve service delivery. Sensibly, the infrastructure building program that is transforming the state's road and rail facilities is continuing and the move to transfer Year 7 from primary to secondary school in 2015 should boost education performance, which remains below par in literacy and numeracy.

Queensland should never have lost its AAA rating and will remain under budgetary pressure until that elusive benchmark is regained. But barring an unforeseen slump in mineral exports, the state's fortunes should move from strength to strength with sound management.





ANOTHER reminder - this time from Mother Nature, not technology - of our interconnected world. The Chilean volcanic ash that travelled more than halfway around the globe to disrupt Australians' long-weekend travel underlines how dependent we are on the latter and how humbled we can still be by the former.

When a similar eruption occurred in Iceland last year, authorities took the unprecedented action of closing air space across Europe. In Australia, Qantas was criticised by some as overly conservative when it cancelled some flights to Europe. But it was no surprise this time around, with the ash closer to home, that Qantas and Jetstar led the way on Sunday by halting flights. The huge backlog of passengers plus the chance of further closures today mean that this event will be costly for the airlines and will require all their skills in disaster management. Unpredictable events, such as volcanic eruptions, can have a devastating effect on the best business plans and the ash cloud could not have come at a worse time for an aviation sector under pressure from fuel costs and still recovering from the global financial crisis.

Modern consumers who have grown used to regular, easy air travel may baulk at the disruption, but it is difficult to see that the airlines had any other option but to err on the side of safety.







For most people, the compulsory cover is all but worthless.

BUILDING a home calls for a big financial commitment. Every project has its difficulties but Victorians imagine they are buying peace of mind with home building insurance. The reality is starkly different when things go wrong. Last year, The Age reports, three owners out of more than 53,000 Victorians paying compulsory premiums made successful claims. Not for nothing is the scheme condemned as ''a disaster'', ''an outright scam'', ''junk insurance'' and ''an absolute joke''.

Consumers have complained for years, but only now has the Baillieu government, to its credit, revealed the details of builders warranty insurance for the first time in the scheme's 10-year history. The figures tell the story. In the past 12 months, consumers paid an estimated $87.8 million to cover home building projects. The state insurance arm, the Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, collected $38 million in premiums, while $39.8 million went to other costs such as brokerage commissions and administration fees. The three successful claims totalled $108,476. In other words, the payout to consumers who are compelled to take out insurance amounted to 12¢ for every $100 they pay.

HIA Insurance and QBE are the beneficiaries of this business. No wonder the industry wanted the details kept secret as ''commercial in confidence'' figures. The vanishingly low rate of payouts is not because no builders go broke, abandon projects or do faulty work. The criteria that claims must meet are just too restrictive. HIA chief executive Gil King says the scheme is the most workable available but admits it is ''perhaps too legalistic'' and a ''quick, simple, cheap, independent mechanism'' is needed to resolve disputes.

He is right about that. As we report today, the Victorian Small Claims Tribunal and Consumer Affairs do not offer adequate and affordable redress. Last year, VCAT heard 878 disputes between owners and builders and 86 appeals against insurers' decisions, but the tribunal would not reveal the results - which hardly promotes transparency.

Insurers are wrong to claim the scheme is workable. The example of Queensland, where insurance is accessible as a first rather than last resort, points to a better way to cover owners when things go wrong. Tasmania has adopted a similar model, having abandoned a Victorian-style approach. The scheme that the Bracks government set up in 2002, following the collapse of the insurer HIH, is long overdue for a shake-up.

Whereas insurers may have been vulnerable a decade ago, it is now builders that face a crisis of confidence, with building approvals well below the long-term average. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has recorded five falls in residential approvals in six months, led by a 3.5 per cent fall for houses in April. Take out rebuilding in Queensland after recent disasters, and new dwelling approvals plunged 5.6 per cent. Given the impacts of a housing shortfall on affordability, the government should do everything it can to give Victorians the confidence to build homes.

As the state has made home building insurance mandatory and its insurance arm collects the premiums, the government is morally obliged to act on ''the worst bad-faith product that you could ever find'', in the words of the Builders Collective of Australia, representing small builders. Finance Minister Robert Clark says the government is concerned but suggests long insurance ''tails'' - which involves making provision for payouts for years to come - mean comparisons between current premiums and payouts are ''not valid''. However, building owners have only six years to lodge a claim; at the current rate of payouts, it would take 833 years to match the money collected in the past year.

The whole scheme may need to be restructured, based on insurance models that have served interstate consumers better and more fairly. Rather than just looking at ways that Victoria's scheme can be ''improved'', the government must act with urgency to end this insurance rort.





TURKISH Prime Minister Recep Erdogan this week adopted a global perspective in hailing the return of his centre-right government for a historic third term: ''Today the Western world, Tripoli, Gaza, have won. The Middle East, the Balkans, Europe have won. Peace and stability have won.'' In any other country, a politician who portrayed a national election result in this way would be regarded as a megalomaniac, and some of Mr Erdogan's opponents do indeed worry that he has megalomaniacal tendencies. But it is also true that if any national leader can speak in that way it is he. Since he first led his Justice and Development Party to power in 2002, Turkey has been steadily reclaiming its historic role as a bridge between Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Mr Erdogan's achievements, and Turkey's under his leadership, cannot be denied. Though many feared the Islamist tendencies of Justice and Development, he has not dismantled Turkish democracy - but there are greater restrictions of free speech than would be accepted in Western countries. And a once-poor nation is booming economically: productivity has doubled and exports have tripled under the Erdogan government, and with a growth rate of 9 per cent Turkey, an aspirant to join the European Union, is performing better than some of the EU's member states. This prosperity has transformed the lives of the religiously conservative peasantry who are Justice and Development's base, and have kept Mr Erdogan in power.

Supporters of the main opposition group, the centre-left, secularist Republican People's Party, would say, however, that Turks should be relieved that Justice and Development won only 49.9 per cent of the vote, insufficient to deliver the two-thirds majority in Parliament that Mr Erdogan was seeking. That would have allowed him to amend Turkey's constitution without a referendum, creating a strong executive presidency, a post he covets. He must now continue to live, however, with parliamentary checks and balances.

A promise he has failed to keep since 2002 has been the granting of greater autonomy to Turkey's Kurds, who are a fifth of the population. Their homeland in the south-east overlaps the Syrian border, and the struggle for democracy in that country may yet merge with their own. The brutalities of Syria's Assad government have already generated a flow of refugees that Turkey has welcomed, and relations between Damascus and Ankara are frosty. Mr Erdogan has made clear that he believes President Assad's time is up; how he handles the crisis may define his own place in history.





Illustration: Alan Moir.

WHEN NSW sneezed, Australia used to catch a cold. That is no longer true in the wider economy. In industrial relations though, this state's ailments can still affect the nation's health. That is why today's show of strength outside Parliament House in Macquarie Street by public sector unions angered by the O'Farrell government's industrial relations changes will resonate nationally. It is why the Australian Council of Trade Unions has intervened vociferously to back NSW public sector workers. The ACTU fears the O'Farrell model - which aims, in effect, to ensure a budgeted limit on public-sector wage rises is observed and achieved - could be adopted by Coalition governments in other states.

But all the big union guns in the country are not going to win the central argument, which boils down to this: governments, state and federal, should have control of their budgets. If an elected government decides it cannot afford wage rises above 2.5 per cent, nothing should be able to overturn that. At present those figures can be, in effect, rewritten by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. No other budget variables are subject to amendment by an outside tribunal, as public servants' wages have been. In order to manage its finances - taxpayers' money - efficiently, a government must be allowed certainty on this point. To the discredit of those holding the balance of power in the upper house - and of the government which acquiesced to their demand - police wages have been exempted from the new limits. Let us hope this foolish anomaly is amended in coming years.

The O'Farrell government, it should be noted, is not stating that no wage rises can be awarded above the 2.5 per cent ceiling. Only that, if they are, they should be based on genuine productivity improvements - ones which must be demonstrated to have been implemented before pay rises are granted. This is no more than commonsense and fair dealing.

But while the O'Farrell government is right to defend the integrity of its budget with a new set of industrial rules, it nonetheless still has to take care. We have argued before that there is good reason to increase the pay of, in particular, teachers compared with other workers, in order to redress the long-term decline in their salaries compared with other similarly qualified professions working in the private sector. Lumping most public sector workers together and enforcing a rigid limit on their pay rises will solve the short-term problem of maintaining budget integrity. But that should not be achieved by worsening a long-term inequity.






THE triumph of entitlement expectation will be complete if Tony Abbott acquiesces to Coalition colleagues demanding, in effect, he ''compensate'' pensioners for cost-of-living rises resulting from a carbon tax, even when there is no carbon tax.

As silly as it sounds, and as silly as it would be, members of the shadow cabinet want the Opposition Leader to scrap his undertaking to do away with carbon tax compensation for pensioners if and when he becomes prime minister and repeals the carbon tax promised by the Gillard government.

This suggests voters can have their cake and eat it, too.

But it does not go so far as a magic pudding proposition. These agitators for pension munificence understand at least one basic principle - the money, which would have come from carbon tax revenue, must come from somewhere else in the absence of a carbon tax. That source is Abbott's pre-election promise to pay new mothers their full wage for 26 weeks after giving birth, to be funded by a rise in company tax.

The government's paid maternity leave scheme began on January 1. It pays new mothers the minimum wage - now $570 a week - for 18 weeks. That's no longer stingy, say the Abbott arm twisters, because its implementation has taken the sting out of the maternity leave debate. It seems expectant mothers were not offered the more generous Coalition scheme at the election because they deserved it, but because votes were up for grabs. And votes remain the contest. The backroom slide-rule does not calculate what makes sense but what gathers the maximum net votes. Said one senior Liberal: ''You cannot take money away from pensioners; it would kill us.''

Does no other section of society get by on limited finances? Are circumstances not also tough for young families on modest incomes, high rents, high costs of living and seemingly insurmountable house prices? Yet pensioners attract special consideration on issues such as rising costs of living outstripping their spending power (with or without compensation for a carbon tax), even though their pensions are indexed against inflation.

The most objectionable aspect of this latest exposition of political spinelessness, however, is our enveloping handout mentality. John Howard accelerated it and Kevin Rudd reinforced it. It has all the elegance of Ferdinand Marcos handing out pesos on election day, while around him the garbage piled higher.

The irony? In another time, when Australians were more self-reliant, most of today's age pensioners would have been repelled by the political obsequiousness now showered on them.







Royal Ascot was enlivened by an emphatic victory for a two-year-old sprinter rejoicing in the name of Frederick Engels

As readers of Tristram Hunt's biography of him will know, Frederick Engels was both a lifelong revolutionary and a lifelong horseman. "He was an excellent rider ... always among the leaders in clearing ditches, hedges and other obstacles," Paul Lafargue recalled of the mill-owning Manchester red who regularly rode to hounds with some of the bluest bloods in Cheshire. "Seven hours in the saddle," Engels wrote to Karl Marx in 1857. "That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days; it's the greatest physical pleasure I know." Well, the years may not have not been generous to Engels the revolutionary, whose chances faded once the historical going got tough. But the winning post is looming again for Engels the horseman. Yesterday, in the last race of the opening day, Royal Ascot was enlivened by an emphatic two-length victory, going away, for a two-year-old sprinter rejoicing in the name of Frederick Engels. A lovely horse, pronounced the BBC's Clare Balding, as Frederick Engels paraded in the ring beforehand. Once the race started, Frederick Engels stormed to the front, winning the Windsor Castle Stakes in some style in front of the Queen and the usual top-hatted and extravagantly frocked crowd. The original Engels would have been delighted by it all, and would surely have used his winnings to keep his friend Marx in fresh funds. Maybe the Labour party could solve its own financial problems too, after all these years, by at last putting its money on Frederick Engels.





On this occasion there are reasons why it was right to dispense with the responsibility broadcasters have to avoid causing distress

The footage screened by Channel 4 last night ranks among the most horrific yet shown on British television. Naked prisoners shot in the head; the dead bodies of women who had been raped, dumped on a truck; the immediate aftermath of a shell landing on a hospital – images caught on mobile phones of the atrocities committed by government soldiers in the final months of Sri Lanka's brutal civil war. The story of what happened two years ago when government forces corralled hundreds of thousands of Tamils in horrific conditions into an ever-shrinking space, as they closed in the defeated Tigers, is well known. A UN panel last month found credible allegations of war crimes committed both by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. But the pictures of the shootings are new and Channel 4 has done what human rights organisations should have been doing in compiling and sifting through it.

The footage, shot either by escapers, or as trophy videos by soldiers committing the atrocities, is almost unwatchable. But on this occasion there are two reasons why it was right to dispense with the responsibility broadcasters have to avoid causing distress. First, the Sri Lankan government engineered a war without witness, which was why, in echoes of Srebrenica, they forced UN observers to leave first. This film atones, in small part, for the failure of the international community to make Sri Lanka accountable for these deaths. Second, the parallel with Srebrenica is only too real. As the UN panel reveals, the shelling of hospitals in the so-called no-fire zones was so systematic – there were 65 such attacks – that it is impossible to believe it was random. One shelling took place after a Red Cross official supplied the GPS co-ordinates to the Sri Lankan authorities, a procedure meant to avoid such shellings.

The targeting of civilians is a war crime. If proved, these charges go right up the chain of command of Sri Lanka's military and government. If Iran stands condemned for killing hundreds in the wake of the June 2009 election, if Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic now face justice in The Hague, if Bashar al-Assad faces UN sanctions for an assault that has killed 1,300 Syrians, how it is that President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, the defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, escape all censure, after over 40,000 civilians were killed?

That the LTTE assassinated presidents and invented the suicide belt, that the Tigers used civilians as human shields, is no defence from the charge that Sri Lankan soldiers summarily executed prisoners in their custody. Sri Lanka is trying to pretend these events are history, as the economy and tourism pick up. They are not. This evidence has to be faced.






The truth is that the programmes for which the Navy hankers were not affordable a year ago and are not affordable now

Navy complaints that Britain will be unable to keep up its Libya mission for more than another three months need to be taken with a large pinch of sea salt. It is true that the current Nato operations against Libya cannot go on indefinitely. The end of the summer is widely, though perhaps optimistically, still set as a realistic deadline. But the reasons are predominantly political, not military or logistical. The Libya mission does not stand or fall by whether UK jet fighters can be launched from a now mothballed aircraft carrier stationed 20 minutes from their targets, rather than from an airfield another hour away in southern Italy, as at present. It stands or falls by whether the pressure on the Gaddafi regime can achieve its object within a reasonable timeframe without mission creep or stalemate. Ministers should not be deflected by the first sea lord Sir Mark Stanhope's comments. The armed forces chief Sir David Richards was right to slap his naval colleague down yesterday.

Admiral Stanhope clearly sensed a political opportunity to reopen some of the issues recently decided by the strategic defence review. The Libya mission was not on anyone's mind when the review was concluded last autumn. In that sense the mothballing of the Ark Royal and the scrapping of the Harrier jump jets were unfortunately timed. But the defence ministry got off relatively lightly in the 2010 spending review. Its 8% cuts over four years compare very favourably with the 19% departmental average. The truth is that the programmes for which the Navy hankers were not affordable a year ago and are not affordable now. The fact that the government has rightly rethought its policy on the NHS does not mean it should do the same on defence. Even with the cuts, Britain continues to have one of the highest defence spending profiles in the world and is comfortably within Nato spending targets.

All the same, there is no disputing that Libya has highlighted some of the wider logistical challenges facing Nato and has reopened the unresolved argument about European defence capability more generally. But the problem here is not with British – or French – levels of commitment. The difficulty lies with other European countries, including Germany. Last week's blistering speech to Nato by the outgoing US defence secretary Robert Gates did not, in fact, mark any change of policy by Washington. But it expressed, in unusually direct language, the realities of a United States that, over time, is losing interest in and patience with the alliance because of its failure to bear a sufficient share of the Nato burden. In the short term, as Mr Gates argued, the problem in Libya has been that fewer than half of the 28 allies who voted for the mission have actually participated in it. Many of the non-participants have done nothing because they have so little by way of units and munitions to contribute. As a result, an air campaign which was planned to mount 300 daily sorties has struggled to deliver 150.

For now, that shortfall is being met by the US. But for how much longer? That is the real question posed by Mr Gates, especially in the longer term. For years, all European countries, Britain included, have systematically redirected their defence spending towards welfare and public services. Some, unlike Britain, have gone so far that they are now effectively unable, as well as unwilling, to play a significant combat role of any sort, especially in constrained economic times. A genuine European commitment to a genuine European defence effort is an obvious answer in theory. In practice, however, the lack of collective political will and money means such a force is still years away at best. Many Europeans will feel relieved at that, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is another mark of European decline that cannot be ignored for ever. In the end, the warning from Secretary Gates, not the one from Admiral Stanhope, is one we ought to take seriously.






Three months have passed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tohoku Pacific coastal areas. Many of the areas and local residents remain in a crisis situation. More than 15,400 people are dead and about 8,000 others are missing.

About 85,000 people still reside in temporary shelters. They are forced to lead difficult lives there.

As a rainy season sets in, there will arise dangers of food poisoning and infectious diseases. The progress of reconstruction is different from municipality to municipality.

In some municipalities, debris piles up in urban areas because dumping sites cannot be secured. In others, restaurants and hotels have restarted operations. Heavy construction machines and a large number of workers need to be sent to areas where the removal of debris is slow.

All-out efforts should be made to meet the government's goal of removing all debris by August.

While some 52,000 temporary houses are needed in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, only half the number has been completed so far. Many of them have been built in inland areas far from traditional communities. Sites on higher ground near the now-devastated communities have been set aside for construction of permanent houses.

Some refugees have refused to live in temporary houses because they are far from their workplaces or schools.

In temporary shelters, it is difficult to protect one's privacy. But food is delivered, doctors make regular visits and volunteers help those staying there.

Once people start living in temporary houses, they have to prepare meals and visit doctors by themselves. Municipalities must make special efforts to ensure that aged people living alone in temporary houses do not suffer from health problems.

In the case of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, many aged people died lonely deaths in temporary houses.

Efforts to create new communities among people living in temporary houses will be indispensable.

In addition, the government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. must mobilize all the available resources to bring the Fukushima nuclear crisis under control and decontaminate affected areas as soon as possible so residents who were forced to evacuate can return to their homes.





People donated a total of ¥251.3 billion as of June 2 to the Japan Red Cross and the Central Community Chest of Japan as relief money for victims of the March 11 quake and tsunami. The two organizations have distributed ¥82.2 billion to 15 prefectures.

But sufferers from the disasters and the accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have received only ¥37 billion. Some ¥45 billion remains at local governments. The Red Cross and the Community Chest still hold ¥169.1 billion.

The main reason for the delay in the money distribution is that for the sake of fairness, the Red Cross and the Community Chest are calculating the amount of money each victim family receives based on the degree of damage it has suffered.

One solution could have been to give an initial amount of money to each family immediately, then distribute additional funds, if necessary, once the degree of damage was determined.

A committee on the distribution of the donated money in April set down the standard: ¥350,000 for one dead or missing person, ¥350,000 for a family whose house was destroyed, ¥180,000 for a family whose house was half-destroyed and ¥350,000 for a family within 30 km of the nuclear power plant.

On June 6, the committee decided to give points to each prefecture on the basis of aggregated damage local residents have suffered and distribute the relief money according to the points.

This decision, however, does not necessarily lead to quick distribution of the money.

To get the money, victims have to obtain damage and death certificates from municipal governments. But some municipal governments were destroyed by the tsunami and many municipal offices lost resident registers.

At the very least, support personnel should be sent to such locations and procedures should be simplified.

Some families on welfare that have received relief money have had the livelihood assistance they receive from local governments reduced as a result. To prevent this, the central government should tell local governments that relief money must not be regarded as income.






Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — Naoto Kan's departure as Japan's prime minister looks to be as messy and wretched as his uncomfortable time in the job.

Don't weep for him and his querulous colleagues who are too self-centered and incompetent to understand the damage they are doing, but instead for the people of Japan who have stoically watched as the politicians have brought the country to a dangerous precipice.

The economy is plowing new depths because of the continuing fallout from the triple disasters of March plus nervousness about the global recovery, all added to the political shenanigans. Japan is already sitting on some deep economic and social structural fault lines because it is maturing and aging too quickly for its resources and finances. It would be a fascinating case study of the way that politics interacts with society and the economy either to boost development or to hold the economy to ransom. Normally third world dictatorships and banana republics are the most fruitful places to study these linkages, not developed democracies.

The economic damage from Japan's March 11 disasters has been longer and deeper than economists and politicians predicted. A week after the disasters, Kaoru Yosano, the hawkish economics minister previous drafted into the coalition Cabinet to suggest ways of paying for Japan's already spendthrift government ways, tried to shrug off the damage as little more than a hiccup that would not have a negative economic impact.

Already Japan has gone into recession, in the technical sense of two successive quarters of negative growth. Gross domestic product in the January to March quarter fell by a higher than predicted 0.9 percent, meaning an annualized fall of 3.5 percent. Revised figures for the final quarter of last year also showed that the economy had shrunk by 0.8 percent.

The current quarter to June will also show negative growth as the immediate damage of the disasters hurt the economy, including infrastructure devastation in the affected area, power shortages extending to Tokyo and beyond and the ripple effects of disruptions to global supply chains spreading far beyond Japan, especially in the automobile and electronics industries.

Economists are now divided about how rapidly growth will resume in the second half of the year. Yosano puts on an optimistic front, predicting positive growth of 1 percent in the fiscal year to March 2010. His confidence is based on the argument that the slump has been caused by supply disruptions and demand for Japanese goods is still high.

Other economists agree, forecasting a sharp V-shaped recovery as life quickly gets back to normal and spending on reconstruction kicks in. But others are more cautious and warn that political games are exacerbating the problems. In the immediately affected area there are continuing grumbles about bureaucratic rules and regulations. One convenience story chain prepared to dispatch a mobile store complete with a refrigerator for cold dishes and cooking facilities for hot meals. But the health department of Iwate Prefecture banned the vehicle because its 160-liter water tank did not meet local government 200-liter tank requirements to ensure that there is enough water for washing and cleaning. Other prefectures demand more modest tanks, for example, only 18 liters in Osaka and 80 in Tokyo.

Almost 100,000 people are still living in evacuation centers and it seems unlikely that hopes of getting everyone into temporary housing by August will be met, partly because of a shortage of technicians qualified under the construction laws.

Big manufacturers were harder hit than originally expected. Although the area hit by the earthquake and tsunami was mostly agricultural rather than industrial, it had enough industrial suppliers to produce damaging cascading effects on the supply chain. Industrial Japan has stepped up its efforts and hopes to be in full production by the fourth quarter.

Morgan Stanley MUFG sponsored a conference in May including politicians, bureaucrats, academics and businessmen, and concluded that: "The deflationary impact of the earthquake in Japan will be deeper and longer than we had expected in our initial assessment. Supply has responded more quickly and positively than we had thought. (Worry: power shortages may spread if local communities prevent re-start of nuclear facilities that are under inspection.) Demand has responded more slowly. Consumer confidence remains weak and spotty."

In these circumstances, the political circus becomes crucial in a number of ways. Morgan Stanley added an analysis of the dangers, which may prove rather static: "The government's revival spending package for the autumn is likely to be delayed by political factors. Thus, with higher supply and lower demand, deflationary pressures should worsen. In turn such a worsening will likely trigger further downgrades of official GDP forecasts and trigger new policy action, in both monetary and fiscal areas."

It is not clear when the politicians will stop playing their games and try to tackle the very real economic problems, let alone how to pay for new spending to boost the economy. Kan avoided defeat in a no-confidence motion by promising that he would step down once the government had brought the troubled reactors at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to "cold shutdown" status. That could take until January, or later if new problems arise.

It quickly became clear that Kan's timetable is too slow for his critics. Suggestions from aides that he would resign by August, giving him time to push through a fresh budget to aid recovery from the earthquake and set the economy on a smoother track, were brushed aside by opposition parties and by key opponents inside his own party. Kan's ruling Democratic Party of Japan is preparing to elect a successor next month, but with the party split along the gigantic Ichiro Ozawa fault it is hard to see who can be a positive leader. Leaders of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito want Kan out this month and are prepared to hold up the reconstruction budget as part of their hard-line game — so much for the politicians' concern for the plight of the country.

Japan's tragedy is that there is no one with a plan waiting in the wings ready to spring into action to restore the ravages of the devastated area and to put the economy on track. Indeed, none of the prominent leaders involved in the in-fighting has offered any economic suggestions, let alone remedy. There is no consensus, nor even a name, of who may take over. Kan's Democratic Party of Japan controls the Lower House, while the opposition controls the Upper House, so there is plenty of room for further fighting.

Leaders of Keidanren and other business organizations have suggested that Japan is in such a mess that the best solution would be a grand coalition, which might appear sensible advice. But suggestions of a grand coalition previously failed because everyone wanted to pull the strings. Indeed, Japanese politicians are so alike and quarrelsome that they remind one of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the identical twins in Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass, who were fighting and bawling for a child's rattle.

Kevin Rafferty is author of "Inside Japan's Power Houses," a study of Japan Inc and Internationalization."







BERKELEY, California — The dollar has had its ups and downs, but the downs have clearly dominated of late. The greenback has lost more than a quarter of its value against other currencies, adjusted for inflation, over the last decade. It is down by nearly 5 percent since the beginning of 2011, matching the lowest level plumbed since the Bretton Woods System of pegged exchange rates collapsed in 1973.

An obvious explanation for this weakness is the United States Federal Reserve's near-zero interest-rate policy, which encourages investors to shift from dollars to higher-yielding foreign assets. Predictably, the Fed's critics are up in arms. The central bank, they complain, is debasing the dollar. It is eroding the currency's purchasing power and, with it, Americans' living standards.

Even worse, the Fed is playing with fire. Its failure to defend the dollar, the critics warn, could ignite a crisis of confidence. At some point, the Fed's tolerance of a weak dollar would be taken as a lack of commitment to price stability. Frustrated investors would then dump their U.S. Treasury securities. Bond yields would shoot up. The dollar would plummet. There would be financial distress and a deep recession.

Scary stories sell newspapers, but in truth all of this sniping at the Fed is overdone. Historically, a 10 percent fall in the dollar translates into only a one-percentage-point rise in inflation. This means that the dollar's 5 percent fall so far this year will add only half a percentage point to the inflation rate.

And it is not as if U.S. inflation were out of control. Food and fuel prices may be up, but labor costs remain firmly anchored — not surprisingly, given the country's 9 percent unemployment rate. In this environment, the Fed can well afford to maintain its stance of benign neglect toward the dollar.

While Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke paid obeisance at his recent press conference to the talisman of a "strong dollar," the Fed is probably quite happy to see the greenback trending down. With domestic demand still weak, more export demand is just what the doctor ordered for an anemic economy. And a weaker dollar is one way of delivering foreign markets.

Moreover, those who warn that the Fed might fail to raise interest rates if inflation picks up don't understand that the Fed's culture of inflation targeting is deeply ingrained. Indeed, the very fact that the Fed is under such intense political scrutiny makes it all but certain that it will take the first opportunity to reestablish its price-stability bona fides.

If there is a threat to the dollar, it stems not from monetary policy, but from the fiscal side. What is most likely to precipitate a dollar crash is evidence that U.S. budgets are not being made by responsible adults. A U.S. Congress engaged in political grandstanding might fail to raise the debt ceiling, triggering a technical default. Evidence that the inmates were running the asylum would almost certainly precipitate the wholesale liquidation of U.S. Treasury bonds by foreign investors.

And even if this immediate hurdle is overcome, the U.S. will still have only limited time to get its fiscal house in order. Financial crises almost always occur around the time of elections. The U.S. has a big one coming at the end of 2012.

Some critics object that a collapse of U.S. Treasuries and a dollar crash are not the same. The dollar, they observe, is the funding currency for banks around the world. When banks borrow on the wholesale money market to finance their investments, they borrow in dollars. Thus, when volatility spikes and liquidity dries up, those same banks scramble for dollars. Indeed, even when problems originate in the U.S., the dollar strengthens. We saw this in the summer of 2007, when the sub-prime crisis erupted, and again in 2008, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In the short run, then, a U.S. Treasury market crisis might lead to some knee-jerk appreciation of the dollar. But with evidence of deep problems in U.S. financial markets, global banks would start looking for other ways to finance themselves. The period of dollar strength would be brief.

The result would be the Fed's worst nightmare. With Treasury yields spiking and economic activity collapsing, the Fed would want to cut interest rates and flood the markets with liquidity. But a sharply lower dollar would, at the same time, mean sharply higher inflation, requiring it to tighten policy. Caught on the horns of this dilemma, the Fed could do nothing to solve America's problems.

Bernanke regularly warns of the dire consequences of not facing the country's fiscal problems head-on. Congress, indeed everyone in America, should take him seriously.

Barry Eichengreen is a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley. His latest book is "Exorbitant Privilege: The Rise and Fall of the Dollar." © 2011 Project Syndicate






The government and law enforcement authorities appear to be fighting an uphill battle to prevent gangsters and other "antisocial" groups from cashing in on disposing of huge amounts of debris generated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which played havoc with large areas along the Pacific coast of northeastern Japan.

These groups, including not only Japan's indigenous organized crime syndicates known as "yakuza" but a mafia based in China, are seeking to win a chunk of more than ¥15 trillion estimated to be poured into reconstruction of the areas.

On May 5, in the midst of an annual holiday season in Japan, an officer of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, on his visit to Minami-Soma City in Fukushima Prefecture, which was hard hit by the calamities, was flabbergasted to find a Chinese man known as a leading figure in the "China mafia."

This man (who will be referred to as "Mr. X" in this article) is a naturalized citizen of Japan, and is engaged in the business of treating industrial waste in both Japan and China. He was giving gyoza dumplings to evacuees in shelters in an apparent bid to impress the local people with his benevolence.

But his ulterior motive is to win a contract for collecting and disposing of mountains of debris that local authorities are finding difficult to handle. Making matters worse for local residents, some of the debris near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station are contaminated with radioactive substances and therefore cannot be moved to other prefectures.

Indeed, on April 17, the municipal government of Koriyama City, Fukushima, removed contaminated surface soil from the grounds of a public school but was prevented from dumping the radioactive soil at a disposal site by local residents.

According to the Tokyo police officer, Mr. X recently visited the mayor of Minami-Soma with a DPJ Diet member apparently in a bid to win business contracts. The mayor is said to have been unaware of Mr. X's background. The same police officer says Mr. X has sites in inland China where he can dump waste. This means that should he be awarded a contract, debris, including materials contaminated with radioactive substances would be shipped to China.

The China mafia is not the only group seeking to win a deal in the debris disposal projects. On April 21, a member of the yakuza group Kodo-kai was found to be distributing cash to earthquake victims in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and the police believe this was part of an attempt to get a contract for debris disposal. Kodo-kai is the largest group under the umbrella of Yamaguchi-gumi, which is the largest of Japan's "Big Three" organized crime syndicates.

The other two Big Three members — Sumiyoshi-kai and Inagawa-gumi — are also stepping up their activities in the disaster region, which gives rise to the difficult question of how the three groups would split the pie in the event they win contracts, according to a newspaper reporter well versed in their actions.

Another category of "antisocial" groups is groups of people known as sokai-ya, which are corporate blackmailers unique to Japan. They extort money by threatening to publicly humiliate or embarrass companies and their executives at annual meetings of stockholders (kabunushi sokai).

One such group is said to have dispatched more than 30 workers to the stricken nuclear power station in Fukushima to work on disposal of contaminated debris. Each worker carries a Geiger counter to measure and records the levels of radiation. The group's aim, of course, is to threaten Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the nuclear station, and win compensatory money by proving that these workers have were over-exposed to radiation.

The government and the police have already launched steps to counter these antisocial forces, but their task is not easy to say the least. In late March, the National Police Agency instructed the police departments in the earthquake-hit prefectures to take measures to prevent yakuza and other antisocial groups from taking part in reconstruction projects.

On May 8, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said in an NHK-TV program that disposal of debris, which he noted was primarily the task of the municipalities, would not work unless the central government takes direct control.

But even these steps taken by the government and the police might not prove sufficient because the sheer size of the debris and the work required could enable the yakuza to edge their way in.

One case to illustrate this point is found in a construction company in Iwate Prefecture, which was on the verge of bankruptcy prior to the March 11 disasters due to insufficient work. Although the company is now getting more work than it can possibly handle, it knows that the boom is temporary, and that, therefore, it is refraining from hiring more workers. Other construction companies are in a similar position, and, as a result, each has more work than they can handle.

In this kind of situation, the national and municipal governments cannot devote much time to carefully choosing contractors to undertake debris disposal.

The police authorities are also facing difficulties in clamping down on the yakuza groups because many of them take the form of normal business entities engaged in legitimate enterprises.

The National Police Agency is said to have distributed to prefectural police departments a list of antisocial individuals but it is not clear if the police department can fully make use of the lists in their efforts to exclude gangsters from contracts.

It appears to be an uphill battle to prevent yakuza and other crime syndicates from benefiting from the multitrillion yen reconstruction-related projects.

This is an abridged translation from the June issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japan's political, social and economic scenes.






CAIRO — In the months since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation, his successors have signaled a shift in foreign policy by reaching out to former adversaries. Egypt's government has welcomed Iranian diplomats and embraced the Palestinian group Hamas.

Many interpret such moves as clear evidence of Egypt's desire for a diplomacy that is not subordinate to American interests. But Mubarak never entirely fit his detractors' portrayal of him as an American lackey. In fact, Mubarak's need to please his Saudi Arabian benefactors, not the United States, was paramount in his thinking.

Although he sometimes supported American policies, Mubarak frequently rebuffed the U.S. when its positions did not align with his own. Since the end of the October 1973 war, Arab-Israeli peace has been a cornerstone of America's Middle East agenda. The U.S. often looked to Egypt, the most important and influential Arab country, to play a leading role in promoting this goal.

And, when it suited him, Mubarak played his part. When the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat humiliated Mubarak before the U.S. secretary of state and the international media by refusing to sign an annex to an Israeli-Palestinian accord brokered in Cairo, Mubarak told him, "Sign it, you son of a dog!"

On the other hand, when Arab public opinion opposed Palestinian concessions, Mubarak remained aloof from U.S. peace initiatives. For example, in 1996, he declined President Bill Clinton's invitation to come to Washington, along with Arafat and the leaders of Israel and Jordan, to settle a bout of Palestinian violence. And when Clinton asked Mubarak to pressure Arafat to facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal during negotiations at Camp David in 2000, he refused.

Mubarak had a rocky relationship with Israel, and held America's closest Middle East ally at arm's length throughout his presidency. For almost 10 of his 30 years in office, Egypt had no ambassador in Tel Aviv. Mubarak never made an official state visit to Israel, and he frequently refused Israeli prime ministers' requests to come to Cairo. When the U.S. sought to extend the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, Mubarak mobilized the Arab world against the initiative, because Israel refused to sign the NPT.

Instead, Mubarak's relationship with the Saudis usually determined his foreign policy. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and threatened to attack Saudi Arabia, Mubarak dispatched troops to defend the kingdom. He was keen to support the Saudis and their Persian Gulf allies, who provided him with a steady flow of aid and an outlet for surplus Egyptian labor.

Though Mubarak's opposition to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 happened to align with U.S. policy, he was unwilling to back other American campaigns against Arab leaders. When President Ronald Reagan's deputy national security adviser, John Poindexter, asked Mubarak to launch a joint US-Egyptian attack against Libya in 1985, the Egyptian president scolded his visitor, saying, "Look, Admiral, when we decide to attack Libya, it will be our decision and on our timetable."

Mubarak again refused to acquiesce in U.S. plans to isolate Libya in the 1990s for its involvement in the downing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Instead of ostracizing Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi, Mubarak welcomed him to Cairo. After the United Nations imposed an international flight ban against Libya in 1992, its land crossings with Egypt proved crucial to Libya's economy (and possibly Gadhafi's political survival). Libya withstood the sanctions in part by importing food and oil infrastructure supplies via Egypt, and by exporting petroleum and steel with Mubarak's help.

In fact, Mubarak's Libya policy was driven largely by economic and security concerns, and rarely took U.S. interests into consideration. More than one million Egyptians worked in Libya, which was also a large export market. And Gadhafi was eager to help Mubarak subdue Islamist threats to the Egyptian regime. Unlike neighboring Sudan, which harbored Egyptian radicals, like al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who were bent on destabilizing the country, Libya turned them over to Mubarak.

While Gadhafi delivered terrorists to Mubarak, the Egyptian president declined American requests to do the same. After Palestinians in 1985 hijacked the Italian ship Achille Lauro, killed an American, and berthed in Egypt, the U.S. asked Mubarak to extradite them.

But Mubarak refused, saying that Secretary of State George Shultz was "crazy" if he believed that Egypt would betray the Palestinian cause.

Egypt's new leaders have inherited Mubarak's dilemma — how to realize the country's aspiration to lead the Arab world without angering its Saudi benefactors.

For this reason, the Egyptian-Iranian rapprochement will yield more photo opportunities than tangible results. On opposite sides of religious and ethnic divides, a close bilateral relationship would seem unlikely under even the best circumstances.

And with Egypt in need of massive financial aid to offset the economic losses caused by its February revolution, its leaders can ill afford to alienate the Saudis, who view Iran, not Israel, as the gravest threat to regional stability.

As Egypt enters a new era, the radical policy upheavals predicted by analysts will prove to be small tremors. Saudi interests will continue to weigh heavily on Egyptian foreign policy. And that, above all, means preserving the status quo.

Barak Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation. © 2011 Project Syndicate







Special to The Japan Times

HONG KONG — Of all the painful events of daily life, visiting a dentist is often the worst. Grown, otherwise strong and brave men have nightmares in which the dentist hovers over them, like a white-clothed and masked devil bringing pain and destruction. For some it is the sight of the needle that can induce a faint; for others it is the wretched whining of the drill, worse than fingernails on a school board because it presages pain to come; for others it is the sharp probing of very personal space while helpless, which may mutate to torture if they dare to move.

The trauma of teeth usually starts at a tender age, before the toddling stage with sleepless nights accompanying the eruption of milk teeth. For most people it continues at regular intervals with the loss of those baby teeth, the coming of new teeth that don't properly fit the growing adolescent skull, wisdom teeth that play headaches games, the decay and toll of aging, not to speak of accidents in cars, on the playing field and on the battlefield of life.

Now a distinguished group of Japanese dentists has presented a radical piece of research that says it doesn't have to be this way. Much of the trauma and the pain can be avoided with better dental skills and regular checkups. "Your dentist should be one of your best friends, who will see that your teeth last for a lifetime and with a minimum of painful drilling," says Mikako Hayashi, who plays the part of the masked demon in the photo posted with this article.

From patients' disadvantaged prone position in the chair, this is welcome news — if they can believe it.

That's the big question. The radical work is a "Guideline" — a technical instruction on best treatment practices. But it advocates a new way of thinking about the care of teeth. For general dentists, it means they have to make potentially revolutionary changes to their traditional treatment methods, which have been summed up in three rhyming words — "drill, fill and bill."

For governments, the new policy prescription is potentially most radical and challenging of all: But do budget-strapped governments have the imagination to institute far-reaching reforms in everything from training of dentists to public health insurance?

Supporters of reform have one important weapon in Japan: Spending on social security has started to rise unsustainably with the rapidly aging population. With about 23 percent of Japanese aged over 65, there is a yawning gap between social outlays and receipts.

"Potentially, we are talking of savings of billions of yen a year on government spending on dental health services — as well as healthier teeth and lives, and patients who no longer have to fear visiting the dentist," says Yasuko Momoi, professor of operative dentistry at Tsurumi University School of Dental Medicine, who has chaired the group that has published the report for the Japanese Society of Conservative Dentistry.

The report is called prosaically, "Guideline for treating caries following a minimal intervention policy, an evidence and consensus based study," and in both the original Japanese and the English version, which has yet to be published, it is full of technical terms dealing with "proximal caries," "decalcified tooth lesions," "carious dentin," "pulp exposure," "reversible pulpitis," and the evil procedures and implements for dealing with them such as "stepwise excavation," "spoon excavators," "round burs," "polycarboxylate cement," "resin composite restorations."

Unless you are a dedicated dentist, you will probably quickly fall asleep trying to follow the details of ways of treating cavities in a step-by-step process that uses the rule of minimal intervention, that is, trying to do the least harm to the vital structure of the teeth with every step of the treatment. But if you read the report in its widest concept, the nine dentists and librarian who wrote it are calling for thoroughgoing reforms of established practices, which will extend back to dental training as well as government health care support, and billing and payment systems. In the case of Japan, there is much work to be done.

Dentistry is very much the, I hesitate to say Cinderella, more like an ugly younger sister of the medical world, that often gets forgotten. In the U.K., large numbers of dentists have abandoned the public-funded National Health Service, and some medical specialists say that realistically the best that can be done is try to keep public dental insurance treatment for children and for the very poor. In the U.S., where the private sector is regarded as sacred and government health insurance is a dastardly socialist plot, the very rich have movie star teeth, for which they pay thousands of dollars, and the very poor suffer bad teeth and tooth loss.

In Japan, the government has bravely shown the rest of the world the way by hoisting a flag declaring the slogan "80-20," meaning that at the age of 80 the average Japanese person will have 20 of his or her 28 natural teeth remaining (not counting the four wisdom teeth). But dentistry in Japan is riddled with inconsistencies, failings in the educational system, politics and widespread distrust.

Dentistry, apart from the bad rap it gets from the pain that often accompanies dental visits, has none of the glamor of general medicine. A tooth is only a tooth, and rarely a pretty sight when extracted. It is hard to see a "Dr. House," "Gray's Anatomy," "ER" or other TV shows being constructed round a dental hospital or clinic. Teeth and gums are hardly the same stuff as hearts and lungs and stomachs and rarely produce the immediate drama of life and death.

But it is a leap too far to dismiss dentistry as unimportant or to believe that whereas general medicine and need for treatment of the ailments of the body as a whole are vital matters that must be covered by government health insurance, teeth can be ignored until they cry out for attention, unless you are rich enough to pamper them.

Mikako Hayashi, an associate professor of restorative dentistry and endodontology at Osaka University Graduate School of Dentistry, and comanager and leading clinician of the university dental clinics, asserts that dental health deserves quality attention by governments. She says that teeth are the leading indicators of general health: If you have good teeth and gums, you are ready to challenge the world; if you have problems in your mouth, they may indicate bad health.

"Good teeth and good quality dental treatment are very much related to high quality of life. There is an English expression 'down in the mouth,' " Hayashi says, "which suggests that if you have a problem with your mouth, it reflects on your whole well-being and state of health. It is a good reason for regular visits to get good dental treatment to ensure that your teeth and gums are healthy, and you can face the world with a smile."

There is also another English expression, "to grit your teeth" used when facing an unpleasant situation, meaning nevertheless to try your darnedest in the face of the difficulties, with a variant expression, "through gritted teeth." All these expressions testify that teeth have greater importance than being an efficient means of chewing and biting, and the opening shot determining a physical attraction or not.

In the depressing research of the mouth, professor Deborah Greenspan of the University of California San Francisco and her husband, professor John Greenspan, also of UCSF, pioneered the role of dentistry in the fight against AIDS. Deborah Greenspan, an oral medicine specialist, investigated the relation of oral lesions to the presence and progression of AIDS, and with the help of scientists identified hairy leukoplakia, which became a diagnostic marker of AIDS. John Greenspan, an oral pathologist, linked lymphoma to the immunodeficiency of patients with Pneumocytosis and Kaposi's sarcoma.

Looking more positively, as professor Jonathan Knowles of University College London's Eastman Dental Institute noted, the area of the mouth and head in which dentists specialize is rich in tissues, cells and cultures that its advances can be important in general medicine, too.

The guideline produced by Momoi and her committee acknowledges great advances made in dentistry over the last 20 years. Japan has been in the forefront of some of the most important work through research at government universities, and in the labs of big medical and dental companies, especially in recognizing the structure of teeth and causes of decay — the achievements of university research — and the advanced materials to restore decayed or damaged teeth — the contribution of big companies such as GC, Kuraray and Shofu.

Worldwide there is increasing recognition that treatment of dental decay — or caries, as dentists call it — is best done by minimal intervention. The achievement of the work of Momoi and her colleagues is that their guideline is not a theoretical paper, but is rooted in hard evidence gleaned from searches of databases in Japanese and English, plus the more than 250 years of combined clinical experience of the members of the committee, all this honed by more than 100 hours of group debate to reach a consensus on the vital points.

Momoi pays tribute to "the insistence by Mikako Hayashi that if we wanted to be serious, we had to do a study that was evidence-based." Hayashi spent 18 months conducting research at Manchester University in the U.K., where she also contributed to the Cochrane Collaboration, which creates systematic medical reviews to assess the best treatment for diseases.

She has kept abreast of international developments through her research, particularly into the characteristics of dentin, the main component of teeth, to try to strengthen it to preserve healthier teeth longer. She is also investigating ways of assessing the risks of caries and preventing it. She is a member of the International Association for Dental Research and attends conferences of the European Organization for Caries Research and similar bodies. Momoi praises Hayashi's clinical skills as "the best conservative dentist in Japan."

The guideline produced by Momoi and her committee seeks to answer the most common clinical questions that dentists encounter, and it takes them step by step through the procedures in each case with recommendations graded by the degree of certainty and consensus by the experts. The committee worked hard to gain consensus and learn through the discussion process, say Momoi and Hayashi. The emphasis is practical patient-centered care that reduces pain and cuts expensive procedures.

Professor Nairn Wilson, dean of the London Dental Institute, the largest dental university in Europe, and who is one of the world's most renowned dentists as clinician, researcher, and adviser and examiner to dental schools from Hong Kong and Brunei to Qatar and Turkey, praises the Japanese guideline as "an authoritative, challenging and meticulous piece of work."

He adds that "good guidelines of the type that the Japanese group has produced are classed as primary research in U.K. Research Exercise Assessments."

He advises that the next steps — to gain widespread acceptance of the guideline — may be tough since "authors of guidelines invariably find themselves at odds with custom and practice and, as a result, the establishment. Rather than recognizing and valuing guidelines, the establishment can, at least initially, react negatively. They take a 'don't confuse me with the facts mentality.' However, over time they must come to accept them since the best evidence will come to the fore. Accepting and applying guidelines can feel like taking an unpleasant medicine — it isn't nice, but deep down you know it will do good."

As part of his "gambatte" advice, Wilson adds that "guidelines often have much more impact and result in many more improvements in patient care than most forms of primary research."

This sound advice warns of battles ahead. The first is to combat denial. I asked the Japan Dental Association (JDA), whose members include 72 percent of Japan's almost 100,000 dentists, for general comments on the guideline and its usefulness. JDA knows about the guideline because its has been published on government Web sites and the Society of Conservative Dentistry is one of the specialized organizations under the Japanese Association for Dental Science, part of JDA's massive umbrella. But after more than a month to study nine straightforward questions, the staff of the JDA said they could not reply unless they knew what the article was going to say, a small Catch-22 situation.

Recent advances in dentistry include recognition that teeth, if properly treated, regularly cleaned and cared for with a healthy diet, have self-healing properties, so that drilling and filling of teeth showing signs of decay should be a last, rather than a first, resort.

"Dentists should take longer to check teeth carefully before drilling and filling of cavities," says Hayashi. "Teeth have self-healing and remineralizing properties, which should be encouraged first. Then, if you decide you must drill, go lightly. I tell my students to pretend they are feathers when using drills: Be gentle and avoid deep digging. Modern tooth-colored filling materials, many pioneered by Japanese companies, do not require deep excavation and can promote healing in teeth."

One of Hayashi's colleagues, Satoshi Imazato, professor of dental materials science at Osaka University, and a guideline coauthor, is working on filling materials that will contain anti-bacterial ingredients to fight decay.

"By the same token, deep drilling of teeth and filling with old fashioned metal inlays and crowns may be the sure way to hasten their loss," adds Hayashi. "Drilling deeply weakens the vital tooth structure and may inflict lasting damage on the prospects of preserving the pulp that is the core of the living tooth. Excavating and filling locks the teeth into a potentially vicious downward spiral when the fillings fail and the dentist drills deeper."

A lot more is at stake here than whether and how deep to drill and fill teeth. There are also critical training and cost questions. In Japan, public health insurance for dentistry seems to function well, unlike the U.K. But a closer look reveals a system that has deep flaws, from the training of dentists to clinical practice. Momoi admits that "we have the highest concentration of conceptual dentists in the world."

This is because it is almost possible to pass the dental exams and get a license to practice without having seen the inside of a real patient's mouth, let alone probed or treated a live person. Nairn Wilson, who knows Japan well, echoes Momoi's concern: "The clinical practice of dentistry in Japan is not highly regarded internationally. The perception is that teaching focuses on theory rather than skill, let alone clinical excellence."

Japan's final, government-set exam to qualify as a dentist entails answering multiple-choice questions on a computer. Although some of the hundreds of questions that have to be answered within a strict time limit are fiendishly difficult, there is no practical test of dental skills, nor any need to prove that the candidate for examination has a patient-friendly attitude.

Japan's 29 dental schools, 11 in government universities, such as Osaka, Hokkaido, Kyushu, one local government, and the rest in private universities, follow a government syllabus, which includes a course in clinical skills, where the students will be taught to identify and cut and drill teeth, but not in real patients.

Only a few dental schools have sophisticated phantom heads, mannequins that replicate the human mouth and can be filled with healthy or decayed teeth, and yell "ouch" if a student touches a sensitive place. Students in their final years can treat live patients, but only with the patient's permission, which is mostly refused. Momoi says that at Tsurumi only 10 percent of the patients consent. Hayashi notes that patients are much more reluctant than 10 years ago to allow students to treat them.

One reason may be that in Japan even the university clinics have to charge health insurance rates, so the patient pays 30 percent of the bill, whereas in the U.K., university dental treatment is free, but the patient has to accept student care, under close supervision, adds Wilson.

There is a lot of waste in the Japanese system. In the 2011 dental licensing exam for the DDS qualification, only 2,400 of the 3,378 candidates passed, a success rate of 71 percent, or a failure rate of 29 percent. At one private university, the pass rate was 40.9 percent, 59.1 percent and 41.6 percent in the last three years. Insiders say that the health ministry adjusts the pass rate, not objectively, but according to the number of dentists it thinks Japan needs. Given the high fees — ¥6 million for the six-year dental course in government universities and ¥32 million in private universities — this is a wasteful way of weeding out unwanted candidates.

Hayashi cites health ministry figures that Japan faces a severe surplus of dentists, 18,000 too many by 2025. In 2004, Japan had 42,000 convenience stores, but 65,000 dental clinics. Japan has 74 dentists per 100,000 people, higher than the rich country average of 61, or the U.S. with 60, or the U.K. with 42. But Japanese make 4.3 visits to the dentist a year, three times more than some advanced countries.

As soon as the candidate passes the final exam he or she is free to practice on real patients. Recently, Japan decided that freshly qualified dentists should do a sort of apprenticeship in the seventh year closely supervised by an experienced dentist. But this may entrench bad old habits. It leaves the neophyte dentist to be taught clinical practices by an old hand who was probably schooled in drill and fill. Only a minority of Japanese dentists practice minimal intervention, and Momoi estimates that "very few" follow the good practices of the guideline.

Let's not forget the "bill" part of the rhyming trio. One reason for continuing to drill and fill is that it is easier for the dentist to make money. The government health procedures reward completed procedures, not happy healthy patients. This is not Japan's problem exclusively.

Wilson notes: "Around the world 'drill and fill' was the order of the day up until the early 1990s, given the challenge to treat a tsunami of untreated dental disease. With reductions in dental disease, at least among younger people, the approach needs to change to prevention and preservation. Funding agencies find this difficult when the systems for remuneration are based on objective 'procedures completed' arrangements. How do you remunerate for different levels of health and well-being?"

This is complicated in Japan because of government distrust of greedy dentists. Hayashi points out that some years ago government accountants discovered that dentists claimed for more protective rubber sheets — supposedly used and changed for each patient — than were sold by the manufacturers.

Beyond that is the multitrillion yen question of how long governments can keep funding dental treatment by public health insurance when populations are aging and budget deficits are ballooning.

Dentistry, even more than medicine, shades quickly into cosmetics and vanity. Japanese developments in faddy fashions, such as LED teeth, have only drawn attention to the fact that if you have money, your teeth are not merely for eating, smiling and showing your emotions, but a fashion statement.

But Momoi strongly believes that "the dental profession is not a business, but should be based on a conscientious sense of duty. We have a treaty with God, Buddha, Mohammed or Christ to respect people, in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath. In Japan, dentistry is based on the concept of public salvation; in the U.S. of individual salvation."

This is a fundamental question that the guideline tries to answer and that the government has to grapple with: Is dentistry for the benefit of the patient — in which case the guideline offers a potentially more affordable more patient-centered system of health care? Or is dentistry a moneymaking business like any other — in which case should the government exit the cruel market and leave people to fend for themselves?

Kevin Rafferty, editor in chief of PlainWords Media, runs as fast and far away as possible from any dental chair, even one operated by his wife, Mikako Hayashi.

Guide to improving Japan's dental system

• Improve dental educational and insist that licensing candidates have proven clinical and diagnostic skills and are patient-friendly.

There are practical problems. It is not workable, for example, to insist that tooth extraction or even filling be part of a final exam: How could an examiner ensure that enough patients with similar conditions turn up at the appointed hour?

Instead, insist on course work of up to a year in treating several patients and their conditions: Students would have case files and could be questioned, along with their patients. Patients should be given free treatment when treated by students — under the supervision of experienced tutor dentists.

• Largely dismantle the multiple-choice final exam by computer and have open-ended questions where students must diagnose and recommend treatments.

• Consider allowing universities to set their own exams, supervised by external examiners.

• Weed out surplus candidates before admission to university.

• Reduce the number of universities offering dentistry and encourage all dental universities to become centers of excellence.

• Insist on training or refresher courses for all dentists, as a prelude to regular recertification. The guideline says it should be revised every five years or so, to keep up with the latest knowledge. Isn't it dangerous to have dentists practicing 20 to 40 years after graduating without testing that their skills are up to date? The Japan Dental Association gives points for attendance at lectures, but this merely continues Japan's fixation with conceptual dentistry.

• Re-examine the financing of the national insurance scheme to reward dentists properly, but place emphasis on minimal intervention treatment and encourage patients to live healthy lives where their healthy teeth can outlive them.

• Revise the role and powers of the Japan Dental Association so that it is recognized as similar to its British counterpart, which advertises itself as the "trade union for dentists."

• Set up a national commission (similar to a British Royal Commission) to examine the teaching, practice and funding of dentistry with membership of officials, academics, dentists and patients to report in two years. It could be a forerunner of a similar commission to look at medical, health care and social security systems. These issues are too important to be left to the bureaucracy and the whimsy of politicians, but need a public airing.









Indonesia should launch an initiative to bring China and others with overlapping territorial claims to an area in the South China Sea to the negotiating table, not so much to resolve the complex and difficult issue, but at the very least to make sure that everyone exercises restraint.

Recent events prove that the South China Sea is fast becoming the flashpoint many have feared could plunge the region into an ugly theater of war. The Philippines has lodged a protest with China, alleging territorial incursions, and Vietnam has accused Chinese fishing boats of sabotaging a survey ship in its territory. Vietnam then announced a plan to hold a navy exercise in the area. Although Hanoi insists that this is a regular annual drill, the timing is certainly sending the wrong message.

Tensions are rising and someone has got to put a stop to them before tensions escalate further and spin out of control.

Indonesia played the role of an honest broker when it organized a series of regional workshops on the South China Sea in the 1990s, bringing together states with overlapping claims in the area around the Spratly Islands. Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Taiwan are the other claimants, and the workshops organized by Indonesia sought to promote cooperation in place of confrontation. Indonesia is well positioned to take the initiative again as it is the current chair of ASEAN.

The South China Sea is not only a busy international navigation passage linking Asia with the Middle East, Africa and Europe, but it is also potentially rich in hydrocarbon reserves. The race for energy resources and strategic security interests dictate that sooner or later these countries will face off again. The rise of China as an economic and military power is another contributing factor.

ASEAN and China signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2002, which called on states to resolve conflicts by peaceful means and in accordance with international laws. But, this code of conduct is not binding, and there are no legal consequences for whoever may have provoked the recent skirmishes in the area.

The stakes are obviously much higher now and the issue much more complex. Indonesia's diplomatic skills will once again be brought to task to ensure peace in the region. Keep them talking, and ensuring truce will be a good beginning.




Even though the meetings within the two-day 20th World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia that ended Monday mostly discussed regional and global issues, many of the observations and messages that transpired during the various sessions are quite relevant for guiding Indonesia's national economic policies.

One of the strongest observations and warnings from the conference is that while the economic globalization process cannot be reversed, short-term thinking, preferences for national solutions and election-cycle pressures may prompt governments to resort to misguided responses and policies.

The recent wave of nationalistic outbursts against the seemingly expanding dominance of foreign investors in Indonesia is an example of short-term and narrow-minded thinking which at the end of the day would only hurt the nation's best interests.

This signal is frontally against one of the strongest messages from the WEF session on creating jobs and the entrepreneurship equation: That Asian countries, such as Indonesia, that have major technology and skills deficiencies need to woo more foreign manufacturing companies through a package of incentives and policies designed to enhance the transfer of technology and expertise.

The rationale is that foreign companies, forced by need to comply with national policies and international market competition, will contribute to the development of local suppliers and eventually link the country to the global supply chain.

Certainly, national policies and fiscal incentives should be designed in such a way so that investors build up new business models that take into account the needs and demands of underserved and underappreciated groups such as less-trained young people and women in order to generate inclusive economic growth.

Another message that also could serve as a severe warning on Indonesia's excessive fuel subsidies is that environmental damages, notably climate change, would be the biggest threats to sustainable growth in Asia and Indonesia because that region is so heavily populated.

The WEF meeting on the need for green-footprint for energy concluded that fuel subsidies adversely hinder the development of cleaner, renewable energy and discourage energy conservation and efficiency.

Even Karen Agustiawan, the chief executive officer of state oil company Pertamina, did not hesitate to assert it would rather be futile to develop new technology to produce cleaner, renewable energy as long as fuel is heavily subsidized because there are simply no reliable market price benchmarks or references.

As chief of the state company that is responsible for distributing more than 90 percent of the fuels consumed in the country, Karen should be fully aware that the huge fuel subsidies not only blur price signals, distort consumption and investment decisions on alternative energy, but also encourage inefficient energy consumption, reduce incentives for energy conservation and increase the risk of misuse and export smuggling.

The huge fuel subsidies also violate the principle of good governance, a policy tenet often mentioned during the meeting on the development of public welfare through the United Nations Millennium development goals because those funds could be distributed directly to the poor people through well-targeted social safety net programs.







It's probably irrelevant today to speak of the role of the intellectual. In a time when everybody with a Twitter account thinks he is intelligent and clever, the word "intellectual" evokes neither awe nor respect, but derision.

Yet, the fact that intellectuals are not as cool and respected as they were in the past is no reason to just forget about them and believe they have gone extinct.

They're still around. They tweet and blog, just like you do. But many, I surmise, have forgotten their
function and responsibility: Serving the public, representing the voiceless, the disadvantaged and the

I do not intend to pontificate here about what an intellectual is, for I am aware that the authors on the perhaps hackneyed subject, such as Antonio Gramsci, Julien Benda and Edward Said, have comprehensively outlined what intellectuals should be doing and the many problems they are facing.

As a journalist who still believes in the traditional role of the press as it was understood by our patriarch, Tirto Adhi Surjo, during the nation's formative years — that the press is an agent of change, a gadfly for the powers that be — I am appalled by the fact that Indonesian intellectuals have become, to use Said's term in his 1994 book Representations of the Intellectual, increasingly professionalized.

For Said, an intellectual should be an amateur for he is part of the public, part of the laymen he represents, not a specific institution or profession with which he is formally associated.

And I have to agree with the Palestinian author, the media is to blame for turning intellectuals into "experts" and "professionals" who are allowed only to speak on their field of expertise. But, that doesn't mean we can overlook their glaring absence.

My concern begins with tainted milk.

Consumer rights activist David Tobing won a citizen's lawsuit against the Bogor Agricultural Institute (IPB), the Health Ministry and the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency, which said they needed to disclose the list of brands of baby formula that, according to university research released in 2008, had been tainted by Enterobacter sakazakii bacteria.

IPB and the two government institutions refused to abide by the Supreme Court ruling. The Attorney General's Office (AGO), representing the university and the government, challenged the ruling on the grounds that researchers have the right to keep their sources confidential.

The ruling is undeniably problematic. For academics, it is perceived as a threat to their freedom. That is why, apart from the AGO's plan to lodge a case review request to have it annulled, a number of universities, including the University of Indonesia, have also moved to countersue.

The universities said it is academically unethical to disclose any information that may harm or disadvantage the subjects of scientific research. Forcing researchers to do that, they argued, could hamper science.

That is a solid argument. But the lingering question is whether such a move benefits the public. The move may serve the interests of science and the baby formula industry, but it gives nothing to the community that is left guessing whether what they have been giving their infants is safe.

The dons at UI and other universities are here acting as professionals, not intellectuals. They stand for their profession as researchers.

An intellectual should know that their only allegiance, apart from the truth, is to the public. As Said has it, "The intellectual who claims to write only for him or herself, or for the sake of pure learning, or abstract science is not to be, and must not be believed."

At the end of the day, everything is political. That is also perhaps why some of our intellectuals decided to join political parties, mainly the Democratic Party (PD).

On the heels of its national congress in Bandung last year, a number of prominent intellectuals — lawyers, human rights activists, Muslim scholars and others — were reportedly invited to join President Susilo Bambang Yudho-yono's party.

Respected lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis and rights defender Usman Hamid reportedly declined the offer to join the party at the last minute.

This is probably one of the reasons they can effectively serve their function as intellectuals very well.
But, not so much for, say, Liberal Islam Network icon Ulil Abshar Abdalla and other well-known
activists such as former Imparsial leader Rachland Nashiddik, who decided to take the leap and joined the party.

They believe they can do more from "the inside" than from "the outside" as critics who can only bark.

And what has happened in the first year of their activism within a political party is not so much like what they had thought.

Ulil, for instance, was deplorably quick to say that a book bomb sent to him was not linked to any terror groups but to political parties he had criticized, alluding to the Prosperous Justice Party, the Islamist party that, despite its membership in the ruling coalition, has been very critical of the government. His allegations were later proven wrong.

What is most disheartening is his latest comment on a series of damaging graft scandals that have tarnished his party's image: Our party's enemies orchestrated the scandals. It's fine to hear such an evasive comment from outspoken PD official Ruhut Sitompul, but to hear it from Ulil, a top US university graduate, is just reprehensible.

The graft scandals centering on DP lawmaker Muhammad Nazaruddin could only be addressed by providing evidence to prove they were merely rumors and facilitate the antigraft body in probing the lawmakers.

And the intellectuals inside the party, if they stay true to their social responsibilities, should be the first to blow the whistle if the rumors turn out to be true.

In dealing with dirty politics and tainted milk, intellectuals can only come clean if they side with the public.

Failing to do that means they have committed treason, not only against their own values, but also against the people they should have represented.

The author is a staff writer at The Jakarta Post.






The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) stands at a defining moment. Its member states are constantly being evaluated for their economic potential and desirability as a market for investments, goods, and services. At the same time, their effort to forge a community free from external intervention is shaping a new regional order based on common security and shared prosperity.

In geopolitical terms, ASEAN is well-placed to be an acceptable and equal partner to many larger, more powerful economies, such as China, India, Japan, Australia, and South Korea — a part of the world that, for the first time, is leading a global recovery. ASEAN has also contributed to building one of the most dynamic economic-integration platforms in the world, and now acts as a de facto regional hub of wider economic cooperation and integration.

Indeed, the importance of regional economic integration for global stability and security cannot be understated. The combined annual GDP of China, Japan, India, and ASEAN is US$14.45 trillion, roughly equal to that of the United States, at $14.62 trillion. More importantly, East Asia's economies are expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.1 percent, compared to 3.2 percent in the US.

That said, the wide disparities and development gaps between ASEAN members call for a multi-track and multispeed approach to deepening economic integration. In anticipation of worsening food and energy security concerns in the future, ASEAN has set priorities for programs that increase productivity and production, strengthen policy coordination on agricultural trade, and boost efforts to alleviate poverty.

East Asia needs to maintain a fine balance of political-security requirements in much the same way. Continual restructuring and consolidation will be needed to create a balanced regional geopolitical architecture, which must broaden beyond ASEAN members to meet the needs of Japan, the US, Australia, India, China, and Russia — all of which have vital interests in the region. ASEAN pursues an inclusive growth strategy.

With the participation of the US and Russia in the expanded East Asia Summit, the regional architecture is, indeed, becoming more dynamic. Given this, it is imperative that ASEAN becomes proactive and remains focused on relevant strategic issues. In engaging the major powers, ASEAN will not shun traditional security issues, such as maritime cooperation, as well as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Japan has been the biggest provider of development assistance and technological know-how to ASEAN for the past four decades. Indeed, Japan's investment and aid to Southeast Asia have fueled ASEAN's economic progress. I believe that Japan's strategic role in the region will only increase, because its economy and industrial production chains have been regionally integrated. Both sides have pledged to forge closer cooperation and initiate new programs to consolidate their relationship.

Nevertheless, unresolved and overlapping maritime and territorial claims remain ASEAN's biggest challenge. We believe that maritime cooperation between ASEAN and major powers including China would benefit all countries. ASEAN will continue to address this issue strategically.

And, as to Myanmar, ASEAN has deferred the decision on its prospective chairmanship in 2014. At its recent summit, ASEAN leaders asked Myanmar for more clarification about the country's internal situation. In doing so, ASEAN showed its continued influence on Myanmar's progress towards democratic reforms.

Not all challenges, however, are external. The critical issue concerns ASEAN's engagement with civil society. Indonesia's government has expressed support for more proactive engagement with the region's civil-society organizations, pledging to organize "community conferences or forums" to engage with stakeholders in efforts to strengthen the security, economic, and socio-cultural pillars that support ASEAN as a group. Indonesia hopes that these community conferences will gradually gain acceptance at the ASEAN level.

Through these efforts, ASEAN is emerging as the fulcrum of geopolitical stability in Asia. What could have otherwise been a liability — ASEAN's diversity — was transformed into an asset that has set the benchmark for regional integration in a troubled and complex world. Yes, we have our share of challenges.

Nevertheless, ASEAN is constantly demonstrating its determination to create a region where no member is left behind, even as we collectively pursue prosperity and an equitable distribution of our burgeoning wealth.

Moreover, ASEAN is seeking to forge a clearer position on key international issues to heighten its standing on world affairs. Disaster management, peace-keeping operations, and, again, maritime-security cooperation are some of the areas in which ASEAN members can work together to formulate common policy approaches and action plans. In the years to come, ASEAN will make further progress on unified responses to climate change, human trafficking, and food and energy security.

Of course, as it moves forward, ASEAN will have to make structural and policy adjustments to strengthen its voice. And the ability to deter and resolve conflicts among its members must remain one of its priorities. At its recent summit, ASEAN agreed to establish an ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation that will deal with issues of peace and reconciliation — a milestone achievement for ASEAN.

There will be many more innovative breakthroughs as ASEAN develops into an integrated, open, peaceful, and outward-looking region. That outcome will benefit ASEAN's members — and the world.

The writer is Secretary-General of ASEAN.






It is unclear whether in the era of the Majapahit Kingdom people understood the important aspects of human biology, especially those currently being studied through research on the human genome, epigenome and microbiome.

But what is clear and should be the pride of the Indonesian people is that the prominent author Empu Tantular, who lived at that time, was able to observe a very basic biological concept and express it in an elegant phrase: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.

This phrase, which became the motto of the Republic of Indonesia and is often translated into unity in diversity, can also be interpreted as diversity in unity.

History tells us that this archipelago with its motto was once a great country, partly because of its ability to manage a diverse society. Apparently, the phrase is not just part of a beautiful poem in the Kakawin Sutasoma, but also the basic philosophy of all multicellular life, including humans.

Every adult human individual is composed of about 10 trillion cells that are not visible to the naked eye. That is why we are called multicellular creatures. Human cells are highly diverse in terms of size, type, amount, task and function. For example, there are skin cells, blood cells, bone cells, heart cells, brain cells and others.

Initially, the trillions of cells are derived from one single cell formed by the union of sperm and egg. The initial cell, called the zygote, is split into two, four, eight, 16 and eventually about 10 trillion cells in an adult human individual.

In the early stages of cell division also occurs a very fascinating biological process, namely the establishment of cell diversity or a differentiation process. In this process, cells are transformed into various shapes, with different properties and functions.

What would happen if there were no differentiation in the development of human embryos? Humans would consist of a uniform collection of cells so there would be no skin, eyes, bones, blood or other tissue. Without differentiation, human beings might just be a lump of meat or a spherical blob of mucus.

A number of bacteria and other microorganisms from the vagina and anus are the first gift a mother gives to her newborn baby. These microorganisms, which in adult humans amount to around 10 times the number of cells that make up the human body itself (i.e. around 100 trillion cells), play a pivotal role in the proper development of a baby.

All of these "foreign neighbors" live together peacefully with human cells to form a healthy human individual from the second they are born until the end of their life.

In appearance alone, skin cells are evidently different from blood cells or brain cells, but it doesn't mean they are inferior to them or have a lower status than the others. Skin cells are different and granted autonomy that allows them to remain free and independent as skin cells.

Likewise, blood cells remain blood cells, which we need to transport oxygen and nutrients to every part of the body.

Similarly, bone cells must develop strong bones that serve as the main frame of our figure to support us in all our actions and make us pretty or handsome individuals.

Is there a cell more important or less important? Is there a minority or a majority of cells? In the human body, there are no superior or inferior cells.

All cells are needed by the body for it to perform all of its functions well, so that a human can operate as a whole and fit individual. Brain cells act as regulators and are placed in a special position to get protection from the skull. But what is a brain without bone, skin and blood?

By itself a brain is powerless. Cells are very fragile and need lots of oxygen; brain cells need a "special helmet" and have to be surrounded by major blood vessels to get sufficient oxygen supply. All these diverse cells carry out each of their duties consistently and do not interfere with each other.

Humans are multicellular creatures with a very high level of cell diversity. If we regard humans as the most successful creatures on earth (compared to bacteria, fungi, jellyfish, banana trees or elephants, for example) then this high degree of diversity is a critical factor in their success.

Multicellular life in humans can be seen as a very good example of how this diversity can be managed to result in the success of the Homo sapiens as a species. Our own body shows that different cells can live side by side without disturbing or forcing one another to change identity. In fact, the differences are integral parts in fulfilling the various needs of human biology as a whole.

Even though side by side they live peacefully, our biological systems are also equipped with the power to control chaos. If there is a cell that changes in nature and becomes rebellious or coercive, it may be repaired or removed through the repair mechanisms of a mutation, or specific elimination of aggressive mutant cells.

What will happen if, for example, a skin cell wants to invade the blood or lungs, as occurs in metastasized skin cancer? Of course it will cause the individual to become sick or die, destroying the entire social construction of the multicellular human.

Skin cells have been guaranteed freedom of existence and unique expression, and are uniquely different to lung and blood cells, but cannot turn wild and invade or harm other cells. On the other hand, blood and bone cells should not be hostile to or want to get rid of skin cells just because they are different. Even red blood cells, which are superior in number and more dominant in appearance (i.e. red) do not get rid of white blood cells, which at first glance do not seem to follow the general characteristics of blood.

All of these biological systems are intended to maintain the integrity and fitness of a human multicellular "country".

From the perspective of cell biology, Bhinneka Tunggal Ika or unity in diversity is very natural because its foundation is the system of life itself. Our own cells give us powerful formulas that have been proven successful for at least the millions of years of human evolution, i.e. to encourage freedom, respect and tolerance toward diversity and uniqueness.

We could apply these important strategies to succeed as an individual or as a country, as in the lives of cells of all multicellular creatures.

The writer is a professor of molecular genetics at the School of Biology at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.






Last year, I saw the film Temple Grandin and realized there were more ways to be compassionate toward animals — especially cattle — than simply turning vegetarian.

Temple who? Yup, not many people have heard of her and I wouldn't have either if I had not by chance found the eponymous semi-autobiographical film starring Claire Danes. A tale of courage, perseverance, persistence and the ability to turn a disability into an advantage, it is inspiring in so many ways. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!

Temple Grandin was one of Time magazine's 100 Heroes of 2010 and she's definitely one of mine too! Now she's a best-selling author and an inspirational speaker, a professor at Colorado State University and a doctor in animal science (see,29307,1985143_2130462,00.html), but she started out as an autistic child, and doctors wanted to institutionalize her.

Life was not easy for Grandin, but with the dedicated and patient guidance of her mother, aunt and attentive teachers, she was able to develop her high-functioning autism, study until she received a doctorate, and become more influential than most "normal" people ever are. Her hypersensitivity to noise and other sensory stimuli and her love of animals were the basis of her insight into cows, which she first became acquainted with as a teenager, spending summers at her aunt's cattle ranch.

Today, Grandin is considered a philosophical leader of animal welfare and autism advocacy and is credited for developing more humane livestock facilities. She was profiled in a BBC special called The Woman who Thinks like a Cow because of her insight into the minds of cattle and her understanding of their sensitivities. This ability enabled her to design thoughtful and humane animal-handling equipment and even humane ways of slaughtering cows. Her designs are now used to handle half the cattle in the US and she's been hired as a consultant by firms including Burger King and McDonalds (although that's still not enough to make me eat red meat of any kind, let alone burgers!).

As Grandin says, "I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give these animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect."

Try telling that to the butchers in the Indonesian abattoirs who were caught on film by the ABC's Four Corners program. The documentary, filmed by Lyn White, a vegan animal activist and campaign director of the animal welfare group Animals Australia, captured sickening scenes of cattle being tortured. Some were hacked with blunt knives, their eyes gouged, tails and legs broken. Others were seen tied and trembling in pools of blood as they witnessed their mates being subjected to slow and horrific deaths.

The issue here is not just animal cruelty. There are also problems of cultural misunderstanding between Indonesia and Australia, which happen periodically. Some Australians — who typically deeply care about animal welfare — see cruelty as being rooted in Islamic doctrine.

It's like the Western perception that female subordination is an intrinsic part of Islamic faith — it ain't necessarily so, no more than is cruelty to animals.

In fact, senior Indonesian Muslim leaders have said such cruelty is sinful and strictly forbidden. Yes, the Islamic method of slaughter is different to the methods conventionally used in the West, but if done properly, it can also be painless.

And animal cruelty is hardly a uniquely Indonesian problem. As Grandin showed, animal cruelty happens even in rich, developed countries like the US. It's especially common, however, in poor and developing countries, with low wages, bad working conditions and poor health inspection.

It exists in China, India and Latin America, for example. Yes, there are laws in Indonesia that regulate the slaughter of livestock as well as building conditions for abattoirs, but law enforcement is hardly the Indonesian legal system's strong point, is it?

In any case, the Australian government has now suspended all live cattle exports to Indonesia's abattoirs. The situation reminded me of the film Australia with the hunky Hugh Jackman (now that's the kind of beefcake I lick my lips for!) as "the drover", when he and Lady Sarah Ashley (Nicole Kidman) risk their lives to get all 1,500 of "them big fat cheeky bulls" onto the boat at Darwin. Only now thousands of cattle are stuck in northern Australia with nowhere to go until the government lifts its ban.

Was it a case of a knee-jerk reaction, or simply a moral panic on the Australian government's part? Forget about the fact that in terms of foreign policy it was pretty uncool (and cruel to poor Indonesians), it's also disastrous for the cattle industry in northern Australia and bad for the Australian economy.

Let's hope the situation doesn't get more desperate. Sadly, farmer suicides are not uncommon in Australia when things get tough financially. It would be tragic if their government saves the cattle only to condemn the farmers!

Grandin believes that animals are smarter than human beings. In some ways they are brilliant, she says. After all, she thinks like a cow, and she's smart enough to be internationally admired and respected. So maybe we should start following her example, get on all fours and start thinking like cows?

If that other Julia in Canberra goes first, I'll be right behind her!


The writer is the author of Jihad Julia. (










Patriotic nationalism is the basis on which a nation state rests. These nationalists do not betray their nation and they do not go against their own citizens. Without them a nation state cannot last long, cannot foster peace, cannot encourage national sacrifice, cannot fight external enemies and cannot save itself from collapsing. A country needs nationalists and they need to be listened to. They say the 13th amendment must be repealed. Lack of majority in Parliament was the earlier excuse. The present scenario demands the Government take action in the interest of Sri Lanka' future as a sovereign nation.  We have only 3 choices vis a vis the 13th amendment – implement it fully, amend it, or repeal it. What does the Sri Lankan Government propose to do? The 13th amendment was presented directly to Parliament bypassing the Supreme Court and signed following the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord in July 1987. Alongside the 13th amendment was the Provincial Councils Bill. India wants Sri Lanka to grant police and land powers to the Provincial Councils. India is also insisting on removing emergency laws. Sri Lanka being such a small country does it make sense to have so many police forces? Devolving land powers would drastically affect water flowing from the Mahaweli River (Bangladesh and India's handling of the Ganges is a good example). The question of devolving police powers is equivalent to creating a few countries within Sri Lanka. Can India say its devolving police powers has better affects today? Do we tell India want to do inside India?

 Governments have unnecessarily dilly dallied with the 13th amendment and the country should no longer remain silent and a similar effort made to demerge the North and East must take place now.

 The world does not need to be repeatedly told how India fostered LTTE terrorism in Sri Lanka. Pretending to be Sri Lanka's friend while arming, training and providing financial support to a terrorist organization can India be surprised if Sri Lanka is angry? The US did the same with Osama and India thought it could do the same with Prabakaran. Ultimately both Osama and Prabakaran went against its creator. Lesson to be learnt is that terrorists can never be manipulated all the time and terrorists are no puppets.  What India and the world needs to realize is that Sri Lanka is not bound to protect any country's sovereignty at the cost of its own.

To understand the Sri Lankan crisis we cannot detach the Indian interest and it is the Indian interest that has been a barrier to all of the attempts to usher peace. In fact all these attempts were merely to hoodwink the masses of both nations. India's interest vis a vis Sri Lanka defers with octopus type plans. Initial support for the LTTE was to export the freedom struggle calls away from South India to have them watch it take shape in Sri Lanka. Any deviation from this main objective was to ensure Sri Lanka remained destabilized to enable India to tap into its strategic location and secure its natural harbor of Trincomalee.

Today India has trapped Sri Lanka constitutionally with the 13th amendment, economically with Indian projects that are tied to Indian labor, Indian trade agreements that benefits India, geographically with Indian ferry links to Sri Lanka and countless other agreements that may see the light of day in days to come. Annexing Sri Lanka by the current manner that Indians are allowed to freely move, work and reside in Sri Lanka is already taking place while the Government seems to be asleep. With India already engulfing Sri Lanka it makes practical sense to decide to eliminate the factor that would disturb this that being the LTTE.

Enveloping Sri Lanka thus is going to be detrimental to Sri Lanka's sovereignty and Sri Lanka's Government needs to wake up to the ground realities and do something to ensure Sri Lanka's sovereign status is not compromised even if its Ministers think they have any right to allot Sri Lanka as they please.  

It must be reiterated again and again that we cannot fault Indian officials for pressurizing Sri Lanka for they are doing so for the benefit of India.

President Rajapaksa is certainly different from his predecessors. Within his limits he has done exceptionally well. He has managed to scuttle the implementation of aspects of the 13th amendment while spearheading massive development projects in the North and East in an aim to get the Tamil people to give him the backing he needs. A folly India is doing is to merely concentrate on providing development aid to the North and East alone where the populace is well short of 500,000.

We are well aware how the UN is being manipulated by powerful nations. Today it is an entity that is being used to legitimize the rights of these nations to walk over smaller countries. Labeling Sri Lanka's conflict as "ethnic" based was a joint plan by both India and the West with different objectives for both yet detrimental to Sri Lanka's sovereign status.

Our faux pas was to think proposals made by Moon and co can be easily brushed aside or forgotten. Thus the present panel report. Our logic should have remained simple. We either committed war crimes or we didn't. This does not mean people don't die in battle…the "we didn't commit war crimes" is solely on the premise that no orders were given to kill civilians. Why would we need to send emissaries to India or any other country to beg for their support? We were protecting our nation against terrorists – simple as that. Geneva Conventions are not meant to protect terrorists; or are they?

To be cont. tomorrow





Libyan rebels now almost enjoy a de jure status. The very fact that a large number of Western governments, and many of the Middle Eastern and Arab countries, have acknowledged them as the legitimate representatives of the people of Libya is no small achievement.

The Transitional National Council received a further shot in the arm as the United Arab Emirates on Sunday recognised it as the sole representative of the Libyan people. These once wayward fighters, known as rebels for Tripoli and its embattled leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, are now gradually attaining legality in the diplomatic and geopolitical circles, and by all means can boast of a parallel government in the battle-weary country.

With the West and Arab friends throwing open their coffers for aid and assistance; the TNC has a gigantic task to deliver. Its prime concern should be to ensure that the country is saved from slipping into a civil war and an effective government is in place, at least in territories that are under its control. Similarly, it would be advisable for them not to concentrate on a strategy of protracted warfare against Tripoli, and make use of diplomatic and political channels to ensure Gaddafi's exit from power. A mix of warfare and pseudo-governance could pose a threat to Libya's territorial integrity and solidarity. This is why it is important that areas that are under the control of the rebels should be governed in a principled manner by taking care of necessities of life along with the rule of law.

The TNC is in need of impressing the Libyan people with good governance and tactful diplomatic initiatives. Its demand to start oil production at fields should be for the betterment of the locals, who were denied of their rightful share under Gaddafi's four-decade rule. Similarly, as NATO says that the mission in Libya will go on for as long as it takes, the TNC should not close its door for a dialogue with the holed up leader in Tripoli. Addressing human rights concerns and streamlining supply of food and supplies across the region under their control are issues that will keep the rebels on the edge.

The rebels' catch will be in restoring stability and successfully channelising their hard-earned international clout for rebuilding Libya as an oasis of stability and progress in the North of Africa. This acknowledgment shouldn't be merely for power politics.

 Khaleej Times






Buddhism did not come all alone to Sri Lanka. Religious piety, social behaviour and the cultural values are the important endowments associated with the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka.

Gauthama Buddha visited Sri Lanka on three occasions and preached Dharma to the rulers In the Northern and Western regions and the central hills. However, Buddhism had not been established firmly in this country as in the case of North India and Nepal presumably because most of the then inhabitants were Yakkhas, Rakshas and Nagas most of whom were heathens who did not realize the value Buddhism. In spite of the untamed nature of certain heretics and heathens who were the inhabitants of this land during the time of the Buddha's visits there is historical evidence of invasions from the neighbouring country, India, which had presumably resulted in the flow of cultured population which prepared a suitable arena for Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera to propagate Buddhism In Sri Lanka.

Matrimonial relations with North India and

Settlements in colonies

King Panduwasdev married a princess from North India. Queen Bhaddhakccayana was related to prince Siddhartha and her six brothers who had accompanied her had built their own colonies in Sri Lanka. They called them Gamas. These Gamas or colonies - Ramagama, Anuradhagama, Uruwelagama, Vijithagama, Dhighayagama and Rohanagama were established in different parts of the country. Presumably the queen's brothers had brought people including craftsmen from India for the construction of these colonies. In spite of all these developments there is no debate regarding the fact that that the overall development of the country had started with Mahindagamanaya – the arrival of Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera with Buddhism followed by his own sister, Arahant Sanghamitta Maha Theri who brought the oldest sacred tree in the world, Sri Maha Bodhi to Sri Lanka.

An era of unsurpassed

The recorded history o Sri Lanka began when Buddhism paved way to a cultural revolution more than 2000 years ago. In the wake of the Cultural Revolution there came an era of unsurpassed achievements. Fashioned life styles fostered the arts and inspired the creation of Dagabas, temples, monasteries, statues vast man made reservations and irrigation systems which even today defy engineering interpretation.

The mission of Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera was the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka. In a bid to establish Buddhism firmly in this country as envisaged by the Enlightened One Himself Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera established the order of monks and caused to establish the order of nuns –Meheni Sasna. For worshipping by the devotees the relics of Buddha which are Sharirika Dhathu and most importantly the treasured Paribhogika Dhathu, the Jayasiri Maha Bodhi was brought after some time.

Social Revolution brought in with Buddhism
Until the introduction of Buddhism the inhabitants of this country believed ghosts, the Sun, rocks, mountains, trees, fire and the dead which are lifeless objects. They had spectral or phantasmal powers and viands were offered to demons and ghosts which benefited them in no way but instead increased the awe inspiring terror and dismay. They thought they were punished if they failed to make the offerings.

Offerings to Buddha and Sangha

After the introduction of Buddhism the offerings were accepted by the Buddha and His disciples who were human beings like themselves. They could talk to the priests and get their problems clarified.  They came to know that the Bhikkhus were not offended even if offering were not made. Bhikkhus taught the cause and effect of everything, merits and demerits, virtues and sins but no compulsions were imposed.  They were taught they themselves were responsible for their own fate. There were no outside forces or spirits to stand on their way to spiritual development. Priests provided education to their children.

Way to final emancipation and guidance to lead peaceful lives
The Noble Eight fold Path led them to final emancipation. Panchaseela is a guidance to lead peaceful day to day lives.  Attangika Seela, Dasa Sil and priesthood led them for spiritual development. Thus the teachings of Thathagatha which were introduced to this country by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera who is regarded as Anu Budhu or secondary Buddha in Sri Lanka brought about a civilized society in Sri Lanka. People even rose against their rulers when they found them unrighteous. An Upasaka named Tissa had reportedly refused to kill a fowl even on the orders of king Saddhatissa. From the clergy they learnt the virtues of looking after their old and feeble parents. Hospitality, or friendly and generous reception of guests or strangers, treating the sick, helping the poor and needy, kindness to animals are some of the other virtuous qualities  they acquired from Buddhism.

Improvements in the

building construction and craftsmanship
Building construction was in a very poor state at the time when Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera arrived in Lanka and introduced Buddhism to the inhabitants led by their ruler, King Devanampiyatissa. The King had only his elephant kraal to be offered to the Maha Thera and his followers. After the arrival of Buddhism a number of Buddhist temples were established throughout the country. Sri Lankan craftsmen came in contact with their counterparts in India from whom they learnt various forms of architecture. They gained experience in the construction of shrine rooms, alms halls, image houses, preaching halls and relic depositaries. Indian craftsmen played a pioneering role in these construction works. There is evidence in chronicles to the effect that emperor Dharmasoka had sent skilled craftsmen to Sri Lanka to attend to the construction work relating to Sri Maha Bodhi.  Local craftsmen had gained experience by working with these Indians.

Civilized ways of living
During the primitive age the inhabitants of this country depended on hunting but after the introduction of Buddhism they resorted to more civilized ways of living. Rice became the staple food and the people gave up the bow and arrow, traps and snares and used the plough and tools to till the land in order to produce Rice, vegetables and other food stuffs.  They did not work on Poya days and devoted the time for religious, social, cultural and other welfare activities. Their leisure and talents were also utilized to get their needs of tools, utensils, ornamental items, sports needs etc. fulfilled. They produced marvelous erections. The skills and talents in sculpture, wood carving, modeling etc. were improved to an extent that even the foreigners are astonished and amazed when they see the wood carvings at Embekke, sculpture at Isurumuniya, paintings in Sigiriya and modeling in various other places.

Trade, commerce and

foreign diplomacy

There is legendary evidence to the effect that consequent to Mahindagamanaya Sri Lanka had engaged in foreign trade. Traders had come from India, China, Japan    and Arabic countries.

Guidelines in spending virtuous lives
Singalowada Sutta and Vyaggapajja Sutta etc. provided guidelines in spending virtuous lives. They learnt causes for ruining from Parabhava Sutta and refrained from sinful ways including unethical and inequitable trade. Thonigala and Badigala rock inscriptions disclose information of banking system under which the villagers deposited their savings of cash and grain. They later accepted foreign economic systems presumably because they were in keeping with the sublime teachings of the Enlightened One.

Systems of Administration in accordance with

Buddhist teachings
Rulers adjusted their systems of administration according to the Buddhist teachings.  Protection of Buddhism and looking after the people were their main responsibilities. They observed these principles by word and deed. King Devanampiyatisssa was probably the first king to observe these principles of Buddhism. He was enthroned for the second occasion on the advice of emperor Dharmasoka of Dambadiva. It is to be noted that king Devanampiyatissa was engaged in a game of hunting and was chasing after a deer when Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera and his followers were standing on Missaka Pawwa having come in a religious mission of Emperor Dharmasoka. The king was completely reformed after embracing Buddhism. According to the available chronological evidence he and the kings enthroned after him sought the advice of the clergy in all important matters. Thus the clergy took serious interest in the administration of the country.

Religious observances by the rulers
King Agbo Vll tendered aid to his mother before starting the day's routine. King Parakramabahu ll started the day's work with "Thilakkhana Bhavana" meditation on three signs or characteristics of every living being viz. impermanency, sorrow and unreality and ended the day's work with "Navaguna Bhavana" or meditation on the nine virtues of the Buddha. King Parakramabahu l prohibited the slaughter of animals on Poya days. Maha Sangha mediated and settled an impending danger of war between King Dutugemunu and his brother, prince Saddhatissa and accompanied the king to the battle field when he went for war with King Elara. Buddhism was accompanied by social, cultural and economic values which resulted in an overall development in the country. 





My dear Mahinda Aiya,

 Ayubowan, vannakam, assalamu alliakum and best wishes for all the blessings of Poson as the government is dragged deeper into an international diplomatic battle over alleged atrocities during the final stages of the war.

Poson today marks the advent of Buddhism to Sri Lanka when Arahath Mahinda Thera brought the Buddha's message of love, mercy and non-violence. His first words to King Devanampiyatissa who was on a deer hunt were, "Stop Tissa, do not kill". Ironically, more than 2600 years after that hallowed event, the Rajapaksa regime is facing war crimes charges with the focus now being on the British Channel Four documentary film titled "Sri Lanka – The Killing Fields".

 The film was screened in Geneva on June 3 by Amnesty International and the New York-based Human Rights Watch which insisted that the scenes in the film were authentic. Delegates attending the United Nations Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, were invited to see what the two human-rights groups described as the premiere of the controversial and explosive film.

Meanwhile a spokesman for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was still waiting for a response from the government of Sri Lanka to the report and recommendations of the panel of experts he appointed to probe accountability issues in Sri Lanka. The experts recommended the issue needed to be taken up by an independent international body because the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the Sri Lanka government did not seem to have made much headway. Last Thursday, government spokesman and Media Minister Keheliya Rumbukwella said the government had officially responded to the report by Mr. Ban's panel of experts but it did not say whether the response was comprehensive or just a reiteration of the government's stand at the appointment of the panel and it's report were unlawful, unacceptable, and a violation of Sri Lanka's sovereignty.

 While the battle with the UN Chief, the United States and European Union countries continues, the Rajapaksa regime is also facing growing pressure from our giant neighbour India. The newly elected Tamil Nadu state government of Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jeyaram last week passed a resolution in parliament calling for sanctions against Sri Lanka on the alleged war crimes issue. The Tamil Nadu government also called on India's Central government to reclaim the disputed Kaccheithivu island which India had ceded to Sri Lanka in the 1970's.

While Tamil Nadu was breathing fire, the Indian government sent a top-level delegation for talks to implement measures agreed upon in the joint statement issued last month after talks between External Affairs Minister GL Pieris and Indian officials. The statement called for measures to bring about "genuine reconciliation" and India interpreted this to mean the full-implementation of the 13th Amendment plus. Indian officials said this meant giving police and land distribution powers to the provincial councils but ministers of the Rajapaksa regime are interpreting the agreement in a different way while hard-liners in the Jathika Hela Urumaya and National Freedom Front are warning of disastrous consequences.

Amid this confusion and conflicts within conflicts, India's national security adviser Shiv Sshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar held talks with government leaders and the Tamil National Alliance last week.

After meeting UPFA coalition partners you are reported to have told the Indian delegation that the govrnment could not agree to the granting of police and land powers to PCs. With India, the UN Chief and powerful sections of the international community putting unprecedented pressure on the Rajapaksa regime, the coming days and weeks after Poson will see Sri Lanka facing its moment of truth.





Shooting the messenger rings truer now than ever before with journalists making news by becoming easy targets on the street. At close range, it is simple to pump bullets into their chests because they are without bullet-proof jackets and brandish no Smith & Wesson pistols in the line of duty.

They are less dangerous dead too many than in print or on television screens. The sound of gunshots don't reverberate, the blood won't curdle to stop the flow of life. Soon, they are a distant memory. The fallen soldiers of a so-called free Press. Sunday's murder in broad daylight of the investigations editor of an Indian tabloid has thrown more red on daily pages already filled with rivers of blood and gore. The man was a master at his craft with a yen for independent reporting, said tributes across the media. He covered crime, but in the end became one of its many victims.

The tabloid's editor wrote glowingly (about him, and we quote: ''He was fearless (so fearless that his fearlessness often scared me); he was honest; his integrity was beyond reproach and just about everyone he worked (with treated him as a friend, not a colleague.''

''Journalism is a frighteningly lonely profession. Journalists work in teams, but when (it comes to taking responsibility for their (work, they stand alone in the firing line,'' said the tribute.

Standing alone. That's the situation many newshounds find themselves in today. It's a lonely profession digging up facts, stringing them together, facing the flak and soldiering on with only occasional bylines to show for (the effort.

Little wonder then that many mainstream media hopefuls drop out, while those in the know thrive on handouts of every kind coming from every corner. There are gifts galore to be pocketed if you don't ask uncomfortable questions. Only the most committed media practitioners stay clear of the filthy lucre. They are  fearless ones who break a story others would not have touched with a bargepole.

These brave, unheralded men and women often bite the dust in the killing fields of a ruthless system fed and nourished on wads of banknotes, political and business clout, and muscle power. Two weeks ago, a Pakistani journalist was slain after being tortured. No one knows by who, and why, though rumours swirl about the circumstances behind his death. In fact, he was missing for almost a week and had feared for his life, according to Human Rights Watch. He was dispensable, because he may have allegedly touched some raw nerve in the establishment.  International Press Institute statistics show the South Asian country was the most dangerous with 16 deaths last year.

According to the watchdog, 102 (journalists were killed across the world (in 2010. This was eight fewer than the (previous year's 110 media victims, (which was the second bloodiest since 1997. Asia was the most dangerous place with 40 killed in wars, crossfire and targeted murders like those of the Mumbai journalist. Latin America was next with 32 journalists meeting a similar fate.  Honduras, with 10 deaths, and Mexico, with 12, were the most deadly in that region. Some Mexican victims had their throats slit for reporting on the alleged nexus between drug cartels and politicians.

It's normal to assume that war correspondents die in the frontlines of battle like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. They are the popular bylines in death. World attention is on these theatres of war, while crimes against journalists in other countries are often ignored.

We claim we love the truth and the truth can set us free, but when reporters bring up the ugly truth, the muck can go around and someone's carefully cultivated reputation can get smeared. It's a visage of society we would rather not stare at for dear life. The feel good factor of living is more important than some shocking crime story which is a reflection of the violent ways of our times.

'Family TV channels and newspapers' do not cover rapes, murders, abuses, corruption and crimes of the most heinous kind, this writer was told recently by a holier-than- thou type.

Unsolved cases of murders against journalists have risen in the past decade with Iraq topping the list with 92. The Philippines has 56 unsolved cases, while Mexico has 13, Russia 16, Pakistan 14 and India 7.

The statistics are numbing, so is the spectacular silence of a society going with the flow, family values in tow.

It takes courage of conviction to stand up and be counted like these scribes with spine. May their tribe increase.

Khaleej Times





As we celebrate Poson today, in the afterglow of Vesak and the 2600th anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha, we need to meditate deeply on the Buddha Dhamma the Arahath Mahinda Thera brought to us, and whether we -- especially our political and other leaders -- are merely preaching it and to what extent we are practising it.

In the Dhamma, the Buddha tells us that he preached what he practised and practised what he preached. Sadly more than 2,600 years after Arahath Mihinda Thera introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka it seems the Dhamma has become more a doctrine in the head than a liberative way of life especially for those in high and powerful places.

Essentially the Dhamma calls for liberation from our enslavement to self-centredness, selfishness, the desire to seek self-interest, personal gain or glory, power, prestige and popularity. If we are not being consciously though gradually liberated from slavery to the ego and the I-factor then our religion is largely bluff, deception or hypocrisy and we are on the path to self-destruction. Without this inner liberation we often put up an act of having love and compassion for others while in the heart there is anger and bitterness, unforgiveness, jealously pride and other deadly vices. To cover this up we put on a Poya mask or Sunday mask and tell people that we love and care for them.

They know we are acting, we know they are acting and the big act of deception goes on. That is why Shakespeare says the world is a stage and we are actors. He was not referring to Julius Caesar or Hamlet but the omelet we have made with the collective act of hypocrisy and self- righteousness.

On this Poson Poya Day we need to reflect honestly on the extent to which we indulge in acts of hypocrisy or sanctimonious humbugging. Our leaders and decision makers in particular need to turn the searchlight inward and see whether they are abusing their power to deceive and dominate people, whether they are seeking cheap popularity and worse still whether they are plundering the resources of the country instead of sincerely, selflessly and sacrificially serving the people. Political leaders are given a mandate by the people to be good stewards of the wealth and resources of the country and work towards an equitable distribution.Another important teaching in the Buddha Dhamma is that everyone and all things are transient and impermanent. Political and other leaders often tend to forget or ignore this reality and suffer from the delusion that then can carry on permanently with their deception or double dealing. Poson would be a good day for them to repent and recognize the reality that they could tumble from the highest or most powerful post in a moment of time.

The Dhamma also emphasizes the importance of non-violence and the process of dialogue and accommodation in conflict resolution. Lord Buddha has underlined the truth that violence ceases not by violence but by love. For more than 50 years most of our leaders have apparently not taken this truism seriously and have not practised it sincerely. Arahath Mihinda Thera's first words to the deer- hunting king Devanampiyatissa were, "Stop Tissa do not kill" today we are facing the allegations of turning this country into killing fields obviously because our country's leaders over the past few decades did not live or practice the Buddha Dhamma but merely proclaimed it. They did not walk the talk.








Bahrain has been in the media a lot lately, and not for the "right reasons". Instead, it has come under attack from a small but vocal group of would-be revolutionaries who rode the coattails of the "Arab Spring" and attempted to overthrow the government.

Some like Hassan Mushaima (leader of the hardline Shi'ite group Haq) called for a republic - presumably following the example of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

He also called for the intervention of Iranian troops when GCC Peninsula Shield force arrived to help restore order in Bahrain and guard key areas and installations.

Even political newcomers can recognise that events in Bahrain have little similarity with other Arab movements.

I recently met two young Bahrainis: Ali, in his early 20s, who divides his time between work and university and his friend May, an animated university graduate in her mid-20s. Both are passionate about their country and have engaged in self-styled political activism since February 14.

I asked them to tell me a little about themselves, rather than start with the typical question: "Are you Sunni or Shi'ite?"

They addressed the issue immediately, though, and told me it was a question many Bahrainis had grown weary of.

It seems Bahrain hasn't kept statistics on sect, which both felt was because there hadn't been a focus on sectarianism.

Both thought Bahrain had been a united, multicultural society for the most part - until recent events.

May is the perfect example of that synergy. Her father is from the Sunni Al Khalifa family, while her mother is from a well-known Shi'ite family.

Ali is from a Shi'ite family and attends the Bahrain campus of a foreign university, subsidised by a government scholarship.

Asked if Shi'ites faced discrimination, he responded that Bahrain supported religious diversity and allowed Shi'ites to worship freely - highlighting government support for Shi'ite religious processions (such as Ashoora) in Manama.

To my knowledge, Ashoora - a celebration of martyrdom that involves self-flagellation - is not publicly practised in any other Arabian Gulf country.

In fact, Ali pointed out that in 2010 Ashoora coincided with Bahrain's National Day, but the government delayed its own holiday by a day to allow Ashoora to proceed.

When asked about anti-government protests, both expressed solidarity with the early calls for reforms.

While they felt the government was committed to reform, they thought the process had slowed and needed a jump-start. They described the atmosphere at GCC (Pearl) Roundabout as energising, with speakers who engaged the ebullient crowd.

However, both agreed that changed when Mushaima issued his call for an Islamic republic in early March. The celebratory mood darkened and people started to leave the roundabout in large numbers.

Around this time, anti-government forces started blocking access to public places, including Bahrain Financial Harbour, and destroying public property - including tearing up main roads; firebombing shops, homes and cars; attacking students; attacking policemen; and attacking Asian expats.

Initial jubilance at the roundabout faded and, as March stretched into April, May lost her job in a Shi'ite-owned company (officially because there wasn't enough work, but Shi'ite colleagues who skipped work to protest kept their positions - leading her to believe she was sacked for sectarian reasons).

Ali, on the other hand, began feeling the heat as a Shi'ite in a country where some assumed all Shi'ites supported anarchy in the streets. He was also rejected by other Shi'ite Bahrainis for no longer supporting the anti-government movement.

Both May and Ali turned more and more to social media to stay informed, combating attacks on Bahrain from a Western media only reporting one side of the story. Both, responding to wild accusations in mainstream media and online, began showing up at locations where alleged incidents were reported - taking pictures to disprove claims by anti-government factions.

I asked them if they were scared and, looking back, they said they realised they could have been in danger - but they were committed to getting the truth out.

They weren't the only ones. More and more official government Twitter accounts appeared as it became clear that social media - once regarded as frivolous - had taken on a new importance, with all of Bahrain feeling its full force.










Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's popularity is beyond party affiliations and there is not a single politician in Turkey who can challenge his control over Turkish politics for a long time to come.

All Turks agree that Erdogan is one of the strongest leaders in the modern Turkey. After Turgut Ozal (Prime Minister of Turkey from 1983 to1989 and President from 1989 to1993), I can say as a leader he is the most popular man in Turkey.

The more interesting part about Erdogan is that if you vote for Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (AKP) or not he is still your favorite leader since his days of Mayor of Istanbul (1994 to 1998).

And another point is that Erdogan's fame is beyond the AK Party, that is why he is dreaming of changing country's parliamentary system to a presidential system of government.

And, also, there is no strong competitor against him in any other party or in the political arena of Turkey.

The old popular names, like Tansu Ciller (Prime Minister from 1993 to 1996) and Mesut Yilmaz (Prime Minister from June 1991 to October 1991, March 1996 to June 1996, June 1997 to January 1999) have simply disappeared from the scene. And politicians like Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Deniz Baykal have no chance against Erdogan.

Erdogan is really strong in his party and in all of the country, so, there is no argument about his leadership qualities.

Future of Turkey

When there is no strong competition between the AKP and other political parties the AK Party seems the only solution for Turkey. And all Turks agree that now the economy is better if you compare it with the 1990s to 2001.

Turkey still has economic problems like unemployment, and significant income deficit between the poor and the elite classes. However, there is a positive point that the middle class in Turkey is flourishing.

If the AK Party leaders would be able to attract more international investment and have better relations with the Middle East, Europe and the United States the middle class population will increase further. In a globalized world Turkey should play with the global rules and it should try to get more economic value against its competitors.

I am thinking positively because I am 35-year-old and have never seen interest rates that low in my life. We can borrow money with 10 to 12 percent interest rate per year.

However, I am not that happy of Turkish currency's valuation against dollar and euro since it is affecting country's export power negatively.

With low interest rates, businessmen and entrepreneurs have more chance to do business rather than putting their money in banks and getting interest over it.

The only problem is that although our exports are rising our imports are also growing more strongly. Last month, the deficit between the exports and imports reached around $9.1 billion, i.e. record in Turkey's recent history.

And we believe that Turkish government is financing this deficit from the short term loans coming from different funds from all over the world (big amount is coming from the Arab states).

Rising Turkey looks towards East

There has been great support among people for the AKP -- now which has been translated to 50 percent votes and third election victory for the party -- first in the Turkish history, but another thing we should consider is that western side and eastern side of Turkey are really different.

The AKP is giving more support to its followers who are more Islamic people; I mean who live their lives according to Islamic principles. They are much more active in the social life, in business and everywhere else. They are becoming stronger and getting richer.

Liberal people are more affected because of some restrictions, but I can not say that their life is totally influenced.

Economic statistics are showing that Turkey's economy is growing, but Erdogan and his economic team should do extra efforts in order to make Turkish currency stronger, decrease unemployment, and get longer term investments from all over the world.

The AKP leadership has to concentrate on the production and get people's interest in producing something than only consuming. Only producer economies have a chance to solve problem of unemployment.

After the AKP hit the political landscape I as a businessman visited Iran and Syria first time in my life. In the pre-AKP days we were afraid of visiting our neighboring countries. I saw personally that we have much more closer affinities with our neighbors. We really forgot them for a long time. I realized that we have very close cultural values. And these closer ties also gave us some business.

However, in my personal view, during this period of getting better relations with the Islamic countries we also did some mistakes with our relations toward European countries. Because of our endless story of EU nomination the Turkish government seems a bit more tired of endless problems that the EU is creating.

Many Turks believe that it will be not that easy to be a member of the EU since we are an Islamic country. A long time ago I had a similar discussion with one Spanish businessman in an international exhibition. He knew Turkey (of course more of its western side) and Turkish people and delicious Turkish foods. He was in love with the Turks, but he was of the opinion that if Turkey's western cities like Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, and Antalya (is Turkey and) want to join the EU there should not be any problem for it to get EU membership.

But, Turkey is also the east, north and many other cities where people are living according to different cultural values.

The AKP leadership seems giving some reaction to EU countries because we are the only country that is still in the waiting list since a long time; we became a nominee for the EU in the 1960s.

So because of this reaction our government thinks that it should concentrate more on the Middle Eastern countries and Russia.

Another positive thing I can add is that now we would be able to go to 47 countries without a visa.

So it's a good change for tourism, business and for cultural understanding between the peoples. One of the most interesting and important one is with Russia. Now every year millions of Russians are coming to Turkey. The Mediterranean side of Turkey has become like a Russian city. Turkish citizens can also go to Russia without visa and stay there for 30 days as a tourist.

This has provided an opportunity for us to enter one of the strongest and biggest markets, which is near to us, Russia, and former Soviet Union states.

I am currently in Uzbekistan and doing business here since 2006.

Another big change is that once military men were really strong in Turkey; they were seemed as if they were behind many important things, but this has really changed after the AKP's success in 2002.

There is no pride of having one of the biggest armies of the world. We should be proud of having strong economies, inventions, cultural values, sport successes, and achievements in the arts, that is a pride for any nation.

Devrim Basar Turan is Turkey's globetrotting entrepreneur. He has written this article for the Tehran Times.








The events that played out over the past few days in Yemen were the manifestations of a secret agreement between the United States and some regional governments that finally resulted in the removal of the president.

Ali Abdullah Saleh's reluctance to step down in recent months was creating many problems for countries like Saudi Arabia, and thus removing him was the best option for Riyadh, since it would allow the Saudis to gain more support for their plans in the region.

However, Yemen is still entangled in many internal conflicts between various tribes, especially the tribes that formerly supported Saleh but have now turned against him. There is a high probability that a civil war will break out as a result of the machinations of internal and external elements.

But Yemen's sectarian and tribal conflicts can be eliminated by empowering everyone in the new political structure. If all Yemen's diverse groups and tribes are empowered, Yemeni society will experience peace and tranquility.

Unfortunately, the prospects for such an outcome are not bright, and Saudi Arabia is continuing to interfere in the country's internal affairs.

The general theory about tribal Yemen is that if there is a conflict over the central government, clashes in the border areas decrease and the battle moves to the capital and the major cities. But if the country's diverse groups and parties can reach an agreement on a clear plan of cooperation and coordination, they can guarantee their regional and tribal interests, and the conflict and tension will move back to the border areas, leaving Sanaa and the other major cities calm.

Along those lines, Saudi officials thought that they would be able to control the situation if they could take Saleh out of Yemen. Thus, they devised a scenario in which Saleh was injured and transferred to Saudi Arabia, supposedly to receive medical treatment. The Saudis tried to lay the groundwork for a situation in which a consensus could be reached among Yemeni groups based on the proposals of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. However, this plan is not completely consistent with the current reality in Yemen.

In fact, the main crisis in Yemen cannot be resolved by simply removing Saleh, and there is a long way to go before a long-term solution acceptable to all political parties can be reached. Moreover, there are many other unresolved issues, which clearly increase the possibility of U.S. interference in the near future. Issues such as the demarcation of the Saudi-Yemen border or the security of shipping lanes of the region could be used as pretexts for U.S. intervention in Yemen in the future.

There is also the possibility that Al-Qaeda will step up its operations in the country in response to the perceived U.S. interference.

All this shows how complex the situation is.

Many political analysts believe that Yemen's tribal disputes can only be resolved through the establishment of an inclusive political system that would bring in all the parties, groups, tribes, and nomads of the nation from the south to north of the country.

It will not be an easy task. But if the Yemenis can pull it off, all the diverse groups of the country will have a bright future as a united nation.

Hossein Sabah Zanganeh is an international relations expert based in Tehran.



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